I once read a fascinating story about something that was said to the magician Houdini. According to the book The Secret Life of Houdini,
In February, both [the actress Sarah] Bernhardt and Houdini found themselves playing Boston at the same time. She invited him to visit her at her hotel, where Houdini entranced her with more than a half hour of close-up magic. The next day, she rode in a car with a magician and watched him free himself from a straitjacket while being suspended sixty feet in the air. The previous year had been rough for the French actress; ten years after a serious injury, her right leg was finally amputated and she was continuing her stage career with the assistance of a wooden leg.
On the way back to the hotel, the Divine Sarah suddenly embraced Houdini. “Houdini, you are a wonderful human being,” she purred. “You must possess some extraordinary power to perform such marvels. Won’t you use it to restore my limb for me?”
Houdini was shocked when he realized that she was dead serious.
“Good heavens, Madame, certainly not,” Houdini sputtered. “You know my powers are limited and you are actually asking me to do the impossible.”
“Yes,” she said, leaning closer to him. “But you do the impossible.”
“Are you jesting?”
“Mais non, Houdini, j’ai jamais ete plus serieux dans ma vie.”
Houdini’s eyes welled with tears.
“Madame, you exaggerate my ability,” he said.
This is such an interesting response to Houdini’s magic from someone who got to experience it more intimately than most. Yet how would we describe Sarah’s question to Houdini? Was it childish, or naive, or ignorant? Perhaps, but I think something more simple is happening: Sarah believed what she wanted to be true.(more…)