A Fool’s Progress

My favorite Tarot card is The Fool, which shows a wanderer, sometimes dressed in motley. He carries a long stick on his shoulder. He gazes upward, a blissful smile on his face, as she strolls toward the edge of a cliff.

Is the Fool a pathetic character. like a clown who eats a banana, tosses away the peel and then struts about pompously, building up suspense to the moment when he slips and falls flat on his bum?

Or is The Fool a brave adventurer who is aware of the cliff and, presumably, other risks inherent in any journey, and isn’t letting them distract him from the pleasure of the quest?

I was told by Tarot aficionados that the position of the card as it is dealt influences the interpretation. Dealt face up, the Fool represents a person setting out on a major quest or undertaking without knowing all that may lie ahead. The Fool reversed is a klutz, schlemiel, idiot, clown.

When I think of how my numerous adventures have turned out, I see myself playing the Fool in both ways. I’ve made too many mistakes born from a passionate urge to do what others haven’t. I’ve rushed in. In the words of Paul Anka, sung by Frank Sinatra, I’ve taken the blows, I “ate it up, and spit it out” and not because I wanted to do it my way. I simply wanted things to be good, enjoyable, beneficial, wonderful.

Now I have a different interpretation of the image, based on adventures that are much smaller and far less consequential. When I go for a walk, with or without the dog, I may occasionally wear the Fool’s blissful grin, not because I’m ignoring, or denying the turmoil and travail that lurks just outside my neighborhood. I read the newspapers every morning. I look at news–real news, as far as I can tell–on the Internet. I see many things far beyond the life’s pratfalls on which I could brood and fester.

The grin arrives just because I recall that every time I walk, be it in the familiar neighborhood, some distant place to which I’ve traveled, I have a moment when I understand that I’ve been given a gift. Sometimes that gift is in the colors of the sky (made much more dramatic by my polarized sunglasses), the shape of clouds, the hovering lights of jets waiting to land in the nearby airport. Or I’ll hear I the sound of water gurgling in a stream, the sigh of wind moving through the trees.

And then the dog turns to me, after making her unique contribution to the environment, and her eyes say proudly, What do you think of that?
My answer: you get little gifts when you go for a walk. You can’t demand them. You can anticipate them. And you can’t feel bad if you’re too preoccupied with cares and worries–the gifts are there for you alone, and if you ignore them, there will be others.

You’d be foolish to think otherwise.


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