Andrew Santella | June 2, 2019
At the time it seemed a reasonable proposition. At least to my 9-year-old mind it did. My older brother had told me that, if I stood on the fringed rug in the upstairs hallway, he could yank it out from under me, leaving me standing, undisturbed. What could go wrong?
We had both seen this kind of thing done before, had watched novelty acts perform the tablecloth trick on television, usually to the accompaniment of Khachaturian’s “Sabre Dance.” A deft wrist-flick and the performer would pull the cloth from beneath a fully set dinner table, barely disturbing the plates, glasses and candlesticks. I believed it could be done. I must have believed, or else why would I have been stupid enough to get on the rug in the first place?
And I continued to believe, right up to the instant my brother yanked the rug out from under me. There must have been a cartoonish-comic moment when I realized my error, but by then I was airborne, with only a bare floor to receive me when I landed — hard — on my backside.
I think of that encounter with the hallway floor as personally significant. Maybe it doesn’t qualify as a leap of faith exactly — it was more like a pratfall of faith. But is it possible that my hard landing that afternoon explains, in retrospect, what has been a lifelong reluctance to make up my mind about what I believe and what I don’t? I have been shuttling back and forth between belief and doubt ever since that day, and I’m still not sure where I belong. Am I a skeptic? A believer? A fool? A cynic? Not sure. The 16th-century essayist Montaigne had one of his mottos inscribed, in Middle French, on his library wall: What do I know? I consider it a victory most days if I can keep my feet while trying to figure it out.
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