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24.4.12

If

At first, you are informed that wealth and comfort and ease can all be yours if you will just kindly jump through the hoop. The hoop is not held too high, and the man holding it has nice eyes and a pleasant smile, so you jump through. Everyone claps and lauds you and you hear a lot of noise about what a great job you did. Clearly, you are a hero. Clearly, you are on your way.

For a while, you keep waiting for the wealth and the comfort and the ease, but they simply do not manifest. You begin to hear from people that you were supposed to do a lot more; jumping through one hoop is simply insufficient in this day and age. "Back in my day," an aged pensioner and parasite mutters, "One had to really do something if one wanted rewards..."

You go back down to the place where they have the hoop set up, and the man holding it laughs and smiles and tells you that it will be easy. "You can do it!" he says, and his eyes sparkle and twinkle. Just jump through, you are thinking, and so too is everyone else thinking it. After all, everybody has to jump through the hoop. Only people who are criminals or anti-social personalities determine not to jump through. Normal people do this. It's the right thing to do.

The hoop is not much higher than it was before, so you jump through it easily. Again, there's applause and laughter and raw, unmitigated joy from friends and family alike. And to add to the mix of wonderment and satisfaction that you feel, there's the envy on the faces of a few of your peers, those who couldn't get through the hoop or else were unwilling to try. You've accomplished something. This time, you've really arrived.

For a few days, everything is perfect and good, and all the world is a rosy pink sparkle parade of Jesus-touched glory. You are a legitimate and acceptable member of society, and God Himself has ordained that people like you deserve nice things and a life of wealth and comfort and ease. There are documents that guarantee such things to you and everyone like you, time-tested and court approved.

But it's not enough, and the wealth and the comfort and ease still are not forthcoming. "Try harder," your boss says, and you can tell from the way his forehead creases that he's slightly annoyed that you've bothered him. "Pray harder," your pastor intones, and shakes his head and wags his finger. "Do something worthwhile," your father says, relaxing in his lounger and surfing the internet travel sites for the best deals in Paradise. "You should have been a Doctor," your mother says, and tearfully eats another Xanax.

Addled and forlorn, you go back down to the hoop place, but there's a line this time, and the people at the front desk inform you that it's going to cost you to try again. After all, they have to put the hoop higher up, and the insurance policy is much more expensive when the hoop man has to be up on that ladder. And, they add, it's much more expensive and complex to keep the hoop burning without endangering the hoop man. When you point out the danger to yourself, you are met with derision. "Don't you want to make something of yourself?" asks the woman at registration. And the career counselor smiles sadly at you, saying, "Well, success isn't for everyone..."

Troubled, you pay the fee and approach the line, watching as people leap and fall, failing to pass through the hoop. The smiling man with the sparkling blue eyes and the perfect hair who holds the hoop encourages everyone. To the failures he says, "Better luck next time, friend. I just know that you can do it!" For the few who touch the hoop, only to catch fire and burn, he makes fine eulogies and sheds a tear. Every so often, somebody makes it, usually by standing on the shoulders of someone else in line, or else by using expensive-looking springboard devices that you don't recognize or understand, much less have the money to afford. When these folks make it, the hoop man laughs and calls out, "Well done! I knew you were one of us!" and everyone applauds and laughs and sings.

At long last, it's your turn. The hoop burns high above you, and the hoop man winks and gives you the thumbs-up sign. The lady behind you says, "You can do it," in a tense whisper, but of course she isn't going to give you a boost to make your jump any easier. You try and remind yourself that on the other side of the hoop is wealth and comfort and ease, but the old refrain sounds hollow and the blackened husks of the ones who have failed and burned lay before you, making you doubt the whole damned thing. And then you notice, in a flash of perfect insight, that the whole thing depends on the hoop man. He's up there on his ladder, looking down at you, the flames playing on the hoop's metal surface cast flickering light on his too-perfect features.

You whisper to yourself, "If..."

And then you step away from the line, moving toward the ladder. People gasp. Onlookers, shocked and worried, wring their hands and mutter to one another. "What's he doing? How will the hoop man react? Someone should call the police? Is he doing what he seems to be doing? Doesn't he know he should follow the rules? Doesn't he know that civil disobedience is the only answer? Doesn't he know that peaceful protest is the best way? Doesn't he want to achieve, to succeed, to make something of himself..." On and on in a cacophony of confused sound the onlookers' terrified observations and protests ring in the place of the hoop. But you climb the ladder anyway, and the hoop man looks down with a different expression from any you have ever seen. The blue eyes aren't so blue, and they no longer twinkle. His too-perfect hair doesn't seem to be hair at all, any longer. His handsome face is plastic, and underneath is someone old and frightened and weak. And you realize with a thrill of liberation that the hoop man is just a man after all.

This is how the people learn that the hoop man can also burn. In fact, he burns very well.