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Playing Games

I dreamt that I was dragging my sled back up a snowy hill. I paused to wish that I had a camera, to take a picture of my precious children as they slid down after me; I wanted to catch this moment of their childhood before they grew up. And, suddenly, I began to cry.

It wasn’t that my children were growing up so quickly that made me emotional, but the realization that I am still only a child myself. For any “grown” man or woman in her 30’s or 40’s who feels differently, I encourage you to seek out someone in her 80’s or 90’s and ask her just what she thinks of your illustrious two score of years. You are a baby, with all of the joy and possibility of life ahead of you.

With the benefit of our years, we are able to calm a young child who gets overly emotional about a board game. “It is just a game,” we say. The games we play as adults are different than the ones we played as children, true, but how quickly we forget that the whole of our lives is a game – a giant, protracted playtime here on Earth.

When you play a board game, you win or you lose, and then everyone packs up the game and sits down together at the same table for dinner, the score washed away and equal again. I will admit to being one of the children who wanted not to wipe the slate clean after a game, preferring to gloat in my glory or sulk in my loss. But the board *was* clean, no matter how much I cared to remember what score had been written upon it. Holding onto a win or a loss was to my detriment alone, a subtle sort of living in the past that only served to detract from the present moment.

Life comes with responsibilities and obligations different from those of a board game, it’s true. Yes, it is important to pay our bills, help other people, and keep our lawns mowed. Just as it is poor manners to up-end a board game, there are certain niceties that we all need to observe in order to make society life the best it can be. Viewing Life as a Game doesn’t give one the liberty to show his backside or use foul language, but it does point the way towards a gentler way of handling oneself in the face of a sour card dealt. It means that every day is a new roll of the die, a new opportunity to make a decision or take a path different from the one you chose yesterday. It means that, if you don’t like the game you are playing, you have the choice to put it away and find a different one that suits you better.

Sadly, the skill of transitioning to a new game is under-taught, but it can be learned. My good friend Doug used to put thousands of dollars of coke up his nose. Today he has 10 years of sobriety under his belt, has earned his Master’s degree, and operates a remodeling company with multiple employees. He realized that he was making some very bad choices, and started choosing differently. He sought and received help. Moving out of our parents’ house is a transition. Others I know have transitioned from work to retirement, with varying degrees of success.

Some transitions are forced upon us while others we must strive for. Forced transitions require keen attention to the reality (vs. perception) of how our circumstances are changing. Voluntary transitions begin with visualizing the way we wish things were, and then working backwards to imagine how we could get there. But visualization takes time and creative energy, hard to come by when we are overworked and stressed. It requires the conscious setting aside of time to evaluate where you are, how you feel about it, and what changes you would like to make. And if you feel very good about the game you are playing and your position of the moment, don’t forget that there are always newcomers to the game who need your aid and assistance.

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