How to Win at Thought Lifting

Thoughts can be staggeringly heavy. You can pull at the edge of one your whole life and not have it move.

Not all thoughts are like this.

I often carry a small thought in my pocket — “Light is the fastest thing” — rubbing it between my fingers absentmindedly as I walk.

Touch others — “Why is there something rather than nothing?” — and they never stop vibrating.

A good friend and I once challenged each other to see who was the better lifter of thoughts. He asked me to imagine my head as large as the sun. I closed my eyes (as one does with new thoughts), and moved into the black. I swelled and glowed and flared; planets respected me with their ellipses. At last the puller and not the pulled, I felt unburdened, lighter than ever.

My turn. I went small. Imagine yourself at sea in a small boat, I said, but your hands have become great gold bricks, gleaming and substantial. He nodded, closed his eyes, His shoulders sloped (as I hoped), and he thought.

“I can’t row with these hands,” he said. “And my boat won’t last under this load.” But then he smiled. “Hands like these will be seen for miles; I’ll use the sun to signal planes and ships, the kinds with cranes and baskets on winches. Why lift yourself when someone else will?”

“Or, wait — ” he said. “Wait. My turn now.” I began to regret mentioning the sea. “You’re stuck in the boat with me (my hands just hands now), and I’m dehydrated and limp. We’ve run out of things to say to each other. I stand up” — he stood up — “just so tired of sitting for days, and since I’m weak, I fall in.” I was definitely regretting bringing up the sea. “I’m too weak to swim. I’m starting to go under. You’re weak too.”

Okay, now this was serious. I stood up, closed my eyes, and met the thought. No denying its weight. I’d like to think that I would try to save my friend, that I have no more life in me than him, than anyone. The thought wouldn’t gather right, wouldn’t hold still. I wanted to sit, but didn’t.

“Am I wearing pants?” I asked.

“Sure,” he said. “Why not.”

I remembered this trick about knotting the legs of pants and filling them with air to make a vest. In my mind I slipped into the water — it was cold, salt already working at my wrecked skin — and took his wrist. It was so thin, barely beyond bone, we must have been lost for days. I lead his hand to the boat (white, nice, with a varnished-wood lip) to hang onto the edge until I did the thing with the pants. I put his head through the inflated legs, unhooked his hand. I could see him floating, the surface undulating and endless but habitable. The waves began to pick up, the boat began to drift; dark began to bloom in front of us. I could see the thought headed into that dark, but the rules I just made up say I didn’t have to follow it.

“Fair enough,” he said. “You go.” Finally, I said.

I reminded him that his father had loved him.

I won.