Sunday, June 12, 2011


As you may know, I make chain-mail for a living. (No, not chain letters. Chain-mail, like the knights in shining armour used to wear, except that I don't do it as armour. I make jewelry and art work.) It's a fun hobby that became a career, and has led to many very interesting and amusing experiences.

I was reminded of one of these just the other day (well, actually this morning, but by the time you read this, it will probably be "just the other day") when I had some cherries.

Yeah, I know. It seems like a nonsequitor, but it isn't really.

You see, dear Reader, I was working at my shop at a Renaissance Faire in the States when it suddenly began to rain. If you've ever been to a Faire, then you know that when it rains, everything turns to mud. Not all that nice, but neither is it unexpected.

Anyway, this one day it began to rain, and as usual all the patrons fled into the shops for a bit of dry.

Now, when I'm working a show like this, I usually make my art right in front of them. It helps curtail any questions about price, although it does lead to questions like my sanity, or "Do you really put each of those links together one at a time?" (Yes, I do. And I also type each letter one at a time, too.) So, in my shop, I had built a little stage for myself, so that the customers could more easily see what it is that I do.

This one day I happened to have bowl of cherries on the counter next to me, and they were there for the taking.

Well, this giggling group of teenage girls came in, and they were offered a few of these delicious little fruits by my helpers.

Aside - What do you call a group of these giggling teenage girls? A giggle of girls? If they're from Southern California, would it be a gaggle of girls? And what about other names for groups of people? Like smokers? I think they should be called a pack of smokers. Oh, and my personal favorite: A contradiction of hermits.

Anyways, they came in, were offered some cherries by one of my helpers, and promptly decided to "show off" their... uhm... tonguely prowess to each other. One of them said, "Have you ever seen this?" And then she proceeded to put the cherry stem in her mouth, move it around, and then pull it out tied in a knot.

Each of them then decided that they, too, needed to try this. Their attempts were rather amusing.

But, as I was working, I barely paid any attention. Or so it seemed.

After 5 minutes of this, and without saying a word, I made a bit of a show of placing my pliers down, ensuring that they had noticed. Then, with a puzzled look on my face, I slowly reached in to the cherry bowl and took out two, yes two, cherry stems. Still with no word, but an extremely puzzled look on my face, I placed them in my mouth, without looking at anyone else.

I made the appropriate gestures with my mouth, and pulled out the two of them tied in a square knot.

Nobody said a word as I held it up, with my still-puzzled expression, and just looked at it.

I gave an "oh well" sort of shrug, put it on the counter (still without acknowledging that anyone else would have noticed this), and then went back to work.

The store was silent, except for the sound of my pliers and links.

One of the girls stared at this knot, and, as it had stopped raining by then, they all proceeded to walk out wide-eyed and whispering to each other in awe.

One of my workers then casually walked over, looked at the knot, and said, "How the heck did you do that?"

I still didn't say a word, but casually plucked out two more cherry stems that I had secreted in my cheek, and placed them next to the two that had been previously tied together.

And what, pray tell, does this have to do with the Faith?

Ok. Nothing really. I just remembered the story and liked it enough to want to share it.

But actually, I would say that everything has to do with the Faith, if we but look at it in the right way.

You see, dear Reader, what I had done was mis-lead a few people, albeit deliberately, based on appearances. They thought I wasn't paying attention, and so they hadn't noticed me slip a couple of cherry stems onto my board, tie them into a square knot and then slip it into my mouth. What they didn't notice made all the difference. Stage magicians rely on this for their career. I would also say that many politicians do, too, but that's another story.

In general, though, I think this is an important lesson, and true in life: We don't know what we don't notice.

On the one hand, we make many presuppositions, and take a lot of things for granted. One man whom I respect in his field has said that what has always caught him up has been "conventional wisdom", those things that people just assume are true. It is this perspective that has perpetuated most of the racism and prejudice around the world, with such statements as, "Oh, they're just a lazy people", or "They're all drunks".

I remember one elderly woman who had invited me and a friend to the opera with her and her husband. She was prejudiced against African-Americans, and so was quite shocked when I brought a Black man with me. I had warned him ahead of time, but it was all ok. As we talked, he had maintained a very respectful and humble attitude, much to my surprise, but when the talk turned to matters of opera and music, he put in his two cents worth. Actually, it was more like a couple of bucks. His knowledge of opera, and his extremely refined taste, really touched her, and they became friends by the end of the night. It was incredible to watch.

There are many instances of eminent scientists going against the conventional knowledge of the day and arising in history to be recognized as the most brilliant minds of their day. Einstein is but a single example.

Oh, another interesting example is the observation that has been made that the children of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors are amongst the healthiest in all of Japan, despite the widespread belief that the opposite would be true.

But on a different level, the Master gives a lot of importance to appearances. He said that Baha'i cemeteries should be extremely beautiful, and "that the graves should not be joined together but that each one should have a flower bed around its four sides." He changed His shirt a few times a day so as to never have stained clothing. Baha'u'llah, Himself, in the Kitab-i-Aqdas, has laws about our physical appearance. He even states, "Should the garb of anyone be visibly sullied, his prayers shall not ascend to God, and the celestial Concourse will turn away from him." This is how important appearances are. (Wow. I guess I should wash those pants of mine with the grass stains.)

In terms of our daily life, we are even told that we should not do things that give the appearance of prejudice, or infidelity, or other sorts of immoral behaviour. Note that not only shouldn't we do these things, but we shouldn't even give the appearance of doing them.

Lastly, Shoghi Effendi often refers to the "appearance of the Manifestation", and I think there is an interesting aspect to this phrase. To appear means to give an outward show of something. Baha'u'llah was always a Manifestation. It was only after His Declaration that He appeared this way to others. But to me, He didn't appear that way until I recognized Him.

It was only when I noticed His signs that I knew Him for Who He was, even though those signs were always there.

Like I said, we do not know what we do not notice.

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed this one. Writing as often as you do is clearly great practice and preparation. You manage to say something fairly serious and profound in a light-hearted way. I'm also very impressed by your hobby-become-career. I've never been to a Renaissance Faire, but since I'm a Renaissance historian, I suppose I ought to at least once.