Laughter Unlocks a Door That Invites Us Into Living

It’s the Fool card I select, over and over, every time I get tired of the residue of tea leaves at the bottom of my cup. Tired of swirling the detritus to sculpt it into a shape that approximates meaning and familiarity. Into a clear answer that inhales and exhales within the murk. I don’t like it.

It is exhausting to be me, sometimes. To embody the heart of the Hermit, who drags her lantern along the snow to create a drama of shadows that no one else will ever see. Whose eyes glower defiantly above her white beard, as if to say, “Fuck the patriarchy!” The Hermit has no qualms about opting out and living life on her own terms. The mystic swims, while the psychopath drowns. In the Hermit’s world, equanimity is constantly dogged by the pretense of safety. Even alone, she remembers she’s always a step away from the cliff drop of a mind left to its own devices.

The Fool doesn’t really care about cliff drops and certain death. The Fool plunges into the world, empty-headed, mind clear as dawn and scrubbed clean of knowledge. The Fool smiles upon the 24-hour news cycle, scrolls Instagram and Facebook with benign indifference, and feels at home in the sound and fury of it all. The Fool takes a fervent stand on the issues, only to abandon it the next day in favor of the latest newsworthy trend. The Fool can’t be blamed for her lack of critical thinking. She is the obvious consequence of a crisis of imagination. An affable protagonist simply weighing her options, living her best life. An innocent who longs to feast on all that life has to offer. She builds her castle of dreams amid bomb-dropping drones. Children in cages. Heads of state fomenting division. Yes, there’s chaos, there’s tragedy, but who is she to waste her energy on matters that have nothing to do with her? From her experience, life is essentially good and kind. Life rewards the faithful and carefree. The Fool has never been to Switzerland, but she hears it’s quite beautiful. 

I am troubled and intrigued by this card. Flummoxed by the bucolic backdrop of alpine flowers and rocks veiled with snow, as a small dog bites at the heels of our reckless heroine and bids her not to trust so easily in what she sees. Citations are always needed. This moment, glorious as it may seem, is haunted by the ghosts of the dispossessed. 

At least, that’s what the other parts of me—pinned into place by cards like The Hermit, the High Priestess, and Justice—attempt to remind me of. I heed their lessons, and I continue to be uneasy with the hold the Fool has over me. And still, I recognize: Everybody plays the fool. Wishes to unsee and unknow all that makes one complicit in the crime of humanity. Longs for a singular adventure that will deliver us from banality and transform the mundane into a sacred puzzle. 

I may resent the Fool for her easy romanticism, but I grudgingly accord her pride of place in this unfolding panorama of my life. After all, the tarot is the Fool’s journey. And the zero card marks both beginning and end.

I’m Nirmala Nataraj, a New York–based writer, editor, book midwife, theater artist, and mythmaker.

As someone who has woven in and out of a number of different word realms—nonprofit communications, advertising, theatre, publishing, and community arts, to name a few—I know that liberation is possible through the stories we choose to tell. As a first-generation South Asian American, I myself exist in the liminal spaces between cultures, art forms, and languages—and it is this multiplicity of narratives that informs my personal and professional approach.

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