“Do you know how to play chess?”
I had to be around 9 or 10-years-old. I was wary. This question was from my first and closest childhood friends who always pulled me on some new adventure and to some mystical land that ignited fear, excitement, and curiosity. With her, I tried buttered lobster for the first time, drank chalky bright pink Pepto Bismol after overeating junk food, rode in a bright fire engine red convertible with hands up and then had to stumble out of the car to puke, and sunk in the water after she shoved me in because she said: “The only way to learn how to swim is if I push you in. You sink. Or, you swim.”
I sunk. Nearly drowned. Her stepfather had to drag me out of the pool sopping wet, shaking, and sobbing.
She was a mean-spirited bully, but I clung on to her because she treated me like I was just like everyone else and not ‘different’ because of my health challenges that hung over me. She brought out a rush and risky rebel in me to see if I could survive and be the best in the worst circumstances she threw at me. It was always dares rather than truths with her.
She protectively cradled a deep and rich brown board with squares. Gingerly, she laid it on the table and placed the intricately carved pieces on each square. The pieces were beautiful works of art. The only piece that was recognizable was what looked like a horse.
“No,” I responded, “How do you play?”
“I’m not really sure, but my stepfather says it is the game of the minds. This is his chess set.”
I paused and looked around her parents’ room. Her parents were often nowhere to be found and her grandfather seemed to be the one to take care of everyone and everything. “Are we allowed to be in here?”
She stared at me like I was stupid, and then taunted me, “We are just learning a new game. What are you scared of? ”
I met her gaze and simply said, “Nothing. I’m not scared of anything.”
That day, I never learned how to play chess. But, I was hooked. I wanted to learn. What was this game? How could one game that my friend introduced me to enthrall me so? How could 64 squares and 16 pieces pose such a challenge with the desire to be conquered for hours on end?
Fast forward to the last couple of years to new and real ‘friends’ in fulfillment and not only title who finally taught me the basic moves of chess. I was grateful and hopeful that I would finally win one game. Just one game. That’s all I asked for. Time and time again, they beat me. “Checkmate!” was crowd with exuberance. Out of all the board and card games that I had learned and eventually won, I could not win a chess match. I did not even know why I wanted so badly to win. I was not a competitive person, but I certainly liked to be challenged and especially challenge myself.
Well, this past week, I finally resorted to a chess club that I happened to discover at one of the local libraries. Four gentlemen that ranged from ages 30-70 looked at me with intrigue when I walked in and sat down to watch with intent and intrigue at them playing chess. They were playing “blitz chess,” meaning that they only had 10 minutes to make a move. The pressure was on. Their eyes, hands, fingers, and, most of all, minds zipped at lightning speed as each perfectly and beautifully carved chess piece was moved.
Barely looking at me, each gentleman told me their views on chess:
§ “Chess is like life. In a battle or when threatened, you are forced to make a move to defend, protect, offend, retreat, or, most of all, sacrifice, for the greater good.”
§ “Chess is like a dance. The board is the dance floor. The pieces are the people. Make sure all your pieces of moving. Make sure all your pieces or active and dancing.”
§ “The most important pieces that we do not give credit to are the pawns. They mean EVERYTHING at the endgame.”
I was exhilarated, curious, and scared to even try to play chess with one of these gentlemen. They were clearly highly advanced. An 8-year-old girl who had competed in tournaments ended up playing a match again me. Her nails were a midnight sparkly blue and she chewed loudly on pink wads of bubble gum. She ended up letting me win.
I heard my childhood ‘friend’ taunt me in my mind as I silently observed these gentleman in their chess dance and ensued in my chess match with this 8-year-old girl: “What are you scared of?”
Thinking of her made me think of other people in my life who had hurt or challenged me and, most of all, how I had responded. This goes for all of us. There are people who come into our lives who challenge, dare, and even hurt us, forcing a response. People and their words and actions will make you cry, feel like you are less than and as though you will break, question, and maybe even believe all the belittling. We crave and learn from the kindness of others, but we learn just as much and more from the ‘bad’ role models and about ourselves with how we respond. There are the people in life who test us with the worst to find a way to be the best. Who has hurt you to have to rise above and play the game of life just like the game of chess of ongoing learning, defending, moving, retreating, or fighting? How have you responded/reacted? Do you retreat and hide? Do you confront to conquer?
Life is a game. Make your move. Checkmate.
Keep smilin’ until we meet again,