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Yehuda the Juggler (a parable)

We live in an age abound with mesmerizing performers, whether of musical prodigy, the physically daring or bizarrely inventive. There was a busker I once saw, for instance, who composed impromptu symphonies with only the use of his voice. It was indeed a marvel to behold. I also once had the fortune to be riveted by a third-generation daredevil who walked the high wire between two water towers. And then there were the four contortionist sisters from the Far East who intertwined into never-before-seen shapes, a geometric choreography both freakish and delightful. From lands far and wide such talent ceaselessly bedazzles. But there is one who stands alone. Yehuda the Juggler is the most fantastic performer of them all.

While it is true he is a juggler, he does not belong to any order or guild, nor is he well known amongst his peers. In fact, he would not even call himself a performer. But make no mistake, his skills–and indeed they are skills–are unparalleled by the even the most renowned within the craft.

Unlike other practitioners of the art, whose performances spellbind by increasing the number of objects thrown or who toss death-defying items like torches and swords, Yehuda only juggles three common balls. And Yehuda doesn’t perform for an audience either. Rather, individual passersby might choose to pause just long enough–though few do–to be captivated by his unorthodox style. Unorthodox, so it seems to the untrained eye, but nothing short of physical genius is his juggling in fact.

Lacking all grace and showmanship, Yehuda crudely propels the three balls one after the next to oft dizzying heights and at haphazard distances from his center of gravity–for he has none–the balls flung far from one other in all directions. It looks as if a child merely hurled the spheres in the air without the slightest precision or care. But with desperation and acute intent, Yehuda races back and forth along the ground, his neck bent skyward, panting and sweating as the falling objects accelerate on their descent back to earth. And while appearing totally out of control, lunging and stumbling this way and that, at the final split second he incredibly saves each of the of the balls before they crash down. And then just as hurriedly, he chucks each ball wildly aloft again.

It is the most dizzying and nerve-racking dance. Yet to most of those walking by they take no notice. Yehuda does not feign a street player’s charm or prop a collection tin by his feet. For the fortunately curious eye, however, one has the privilege of bearing witness to one mini-miracle performed upon the next.

Yehuda is always there, day or night it seems, at the same intersection of paths in the city park. I once watched him for 40 minutes during a midday reprieve, and he did not stop to take a drink or rest for breath. He has become a fixture in my life. And in all these years I have never seen him drop a ball.

Once I asked him why he juggles the way he does, for surely it would be easier to employ a more conventional technique. “I do not do this,” he annoyingly barked at me, “to keep, as you say, the balls in the air.” Rushing to and fro and without pause he continued. “I do this, you see, to keep myself from falling down.” And with that not another word.


The Water Skier (a parable)

Picture a calm lake shaded with thick oaks and sticky berry bushes. Picture the shore, an amoeba-like bank with dark algae-covered stones. Picture a private beach, where someone lies on a beach chair reading “The Times.”

A motorboat across the lake from you speeds by pulling a water skier. The boat “tick-tacks” along the glassy surface in an effort to throw the skier, but the skier holds on. The boat speeds up and the skier’s grip tightens, but knuckles soon go white and bending a little too far forward the skier goes down. The boat slows and circles the skier. You can hear shouts and laughter. Moments later a bluish-purple “thumbs up” is waved and “Hit it!”: the skier is up again.

It has driven out of sight by now but you can still hear remnants of joyous shouting, and the fading chug of the engine blows through the leaves, and the plip-plopping of a dying wake pats the shore, where someone sits, quite unchanged, reading “The Times.”

The Knock (a parable)

One fall evening there was a soft knock on the door, which would have gone unnoticed or passed off as a bump in the woodwork had Feller not been trying very hard to take a nap. He opened his eyes and shouted over his shoulder, “Who is it?” But there was no reply, just another soft knock from the other side.

In a huff of indignation Feller gathered himself out of bed, and with a crouched gait he shuffled towards the caller. Upon opening the door, he was alarmed to find a young, fair-skinned woman across the threshold. She was covered in a burnt-orange trench coat and adorned with a coffee-colored hat. Feller’s disposition immediately pivoted, and he consciously addressed his strange guest with courteousness and interest.

“Hello, my dear. I am sorry I did not hear you. Getting old,” he mused. “How, then, many I help you?”

The young woman did not reply. She looked straight ahead with unflinching white eyes, as if staring right through him.

“Hello?” Feller repeated, “Hello?” He was bemused by her silence and hoped to break the awkwardness with mirth. He waved an open hand quickly in front of his face, as if teasing whether she could even see him at all. But the woman still did not respond. In fact she did not even blink. Feller now grew puzzled by his visitor’s most unprecedented departure from convention. And she just continued staring motionlessly at him.

Then an idea struck him. He surmised the woman must be both blind and deaf. The notion seemed reasonable, though at once it made him uneasy as what to do. And he could not decide. Such a normal thing, a wandering guest at his door, and yet at the same time it was entirely out of the ordinary. So, he was unsure, even paralyzed, as how to act.

They stood facing each other, she like a tree and gazing all around him; he, quizically looking her over in her brown hat. Feller found himself getting chilly in the twilight air, but in spite of the discomfort he persevered, facing her with resolve, if even out of spite, yet doing nothing.