Power Of Illusion -- False Perceptions A Common, Comfortable Crutch That Can Kill

The dictionary is my constant companion. One word in its pages has captured my attention for some time. It is the word illusion. The Random House Dictionary of the English Language defines illusion as something that deceives by producing a false impression. A perception that represents what is perceived in a way different from the way it is in reality.

I suspect that all of us live with our illusions. And I have little doubt that some of us live by our illusions. In them, we find satisfaction that enables us to make our way more comfortably through each day.

Some illusions have served us well through the years with apparently no serious consequences.

For instance, when I am alone in my car with the windows firmly closed and traffic is at a minimum, I love to sing. My tenor voice reverberates against the glass with stunning magnificence, and I wonder how it is possible that the Metropolitan Opera has never summoned me to its famous stage.

It is an illusion that gives me much pleasure. But the 14-year-old boy who stood beside me at a summer camp singing session came closer to the truth.

``Doctor Turner,'' he said smilingly, ``you sing just like Frank Sinatra's brother, not-so-hatra!'' Even so, I hold on to my happy illusion.

When I have my car washed, and the dirty windows become clear as crystal, I drive away believing that the rattles have disappeared and a new surge of quiet power comes from the engine. Of course, it is an illusion. Yet it is worth the cost of a car wash.

Illusions such as these can be comforting and, for the most part, are innocent and harmless. But not always.

Some commonly held illusions are neither innocent nor harmless. For instance, politicians cannot promise everybody everything.

To declare that they will balance the budget without increasing taxes is to deceive with a dangerous illusion.

To suggest that ours is a something-for-nothing world in which we get what we want without paying for it is simply not so. It is a destructive illusion.

It is also an illusion to pursue happiness, believing it can be found. In fact, the search for happiness is one of the chief sources of unhappiness. Happiness is the interest that comes from investing in a life of unselfishness and service.

To hold to the hope that from the wedding day on we can ``live happily ever after'' and not have to keep love alive by continual fidelity, kindliness and caring is the stuff of fairy tales.

Couples who make marriage a positive relationship know the importance of giving and forgiving, loving and being loved and affirming their love and renewing their vows daily.

It is an illusion to believe that a society that allows guns to be bought at will and fired at whim will ever be peaceful or free from an ever-increasing number of murders or unnecessary suicides.

It is an illusion, too, to believe that the acceleration of capital punishment in America will mean a diminishing of homicides or a deterrent to other crime and violence. It may condition our society to a higher incidence of both.

If we believe that this beloved land of ours can divorce itself from concern for the poor and struggling nations of the world, we are holding a dangerously fragile illusion.

It would be impossible to maintain an island of affluence in the midst of a sea of poverty, hunger, disease and resentment. But it is also an illusion to believe that military involvement is the primary way we can serve the people of the Third World.

We are threatened by the tragic illusion that military conflict in the Middle East is the best way to meet the problem of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

It is a tragic illusion because such a course of action could result in 45,000 to 50,000 American casualties, 100,000 Iraqi soldiers and civilians killed, mass destruction of Kuwait and Iraq and the enmity of Moslem and Arab peoples for decades to come. The seeds for ensuing wars would be sown. No lasting solutions would result.

It is heartening to know that millions of Americans are organizing prayer vigils, street meetings, teach-ins and are sending letters of protest to congressional representatives and to President Bush.

Protests are urging restraint and continuing consultations toward alternatives to war. This will not be simple or easy.

It will require sacrifice and hard realities for all of us - not just those going off to war. But it will not kill us. War kills. To believe in war as an easy solution is an illusion.

It is a sad illusion if we look upon having a strong and intelligent religious faith as something to be considered casually. If we have not already learned this we probably will, but alas, the learning may be painful.

There comes an hour in every life when everything seems to have fallen apart. Then we realize that we have been living in a postcard world. The need for stability and faith at such an hour is urgent. It cannot be a vending-machine faith, offering instant delivery.

Genuine sustaining faith in a time of crisis need not be an illusion. It comes to those who rest their faith in God's love and who daily heed the scripture's counsel: ``They who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with winds as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.'' (Isaiah 40:31)