*A Few Chess Lessons*
The dogs and I are on our evening walk. It’s a longer than usual as my friend Carmel and I are chatting via my wireless headset about the chess lessons we took in New York City in the early 1980s. It’s raining hard, but I’ve lived in Portland long enough to not mind. I’ll dry.
We laugh and enjoy reminiscing—there is something inherently fun in dredging up shared memories, not thought about from years past.
After getting back into the garage, and holding the dogs there so they won’t shake their wetness in the house, I jot down some notes, realizing there are some of life’s little lessons here.
*Better by losing*
“Emmett and I are now almost equally matched.”
[You might remember a year ago I wrote An Ode To My Son After Accidentally Beating Him In Chess]
“My phone keeps beating me, but I think some of it is that I just can’t see the two-dimensional board the same way I can see it in three dimensions.”
“I am no good on the computer for the same reason… Do you remember Larry [our instructor] would play us with his eyes closed?”
“And he still beat us!”
“Yeah. I learned recently that the only way to really get better at chess is to play someone better than you. That’s how you get better in chess, by losing.”
“But who wants to lose?”
I wonder what it would be like if we could quell our egos and be more receptive to learning.
“You don’t remember Bughouse?”
“Not at all.”
“It was two simultaneous games. Me and my partner on one side of the table against you and your partner on the other. Any piece I captured from you in our game I would give to my partner who could introduce it onto the board in their game. It was mayhem. Ridiculous. One board was usually overcrowded and the other a wasteland.”
“Did we ever take it seriously?”
“Nope. And that’s what I always liked about it. It was never really competitive. It was always just a game—fun. No one took winning or losing too much to heart.”
I think the same is true about life.
I wonder what it would be like if we didn’t take so many things too-too seriously.
“I remember you were good at losing at chess.”
“I was. Still am. I have an above-average ability to get all of my pieces taken off the board intentionally. Go figure: the universe gave me a superpower in something absolutely useless.”
“You and I used to play winning and then losing back to back. Just to make our heads spin.”
“I remember that, too. Going from trying to win to trying to lose.”
“Having to code-switch so fast.”
I wonder what it would be like if we could enjoy seeing the opposite of what we think to be true as true.
“When I was the parent volunteer at Emmett and Annie’s school, the chess instructor introduced me to a variant game: super king chess. White starts with only four pawns and a king.”
“Doesn’t sound fair.”
“Yeah, but white gets two moves per turn.”
“Whoa. Two moves per turn? That means you could pin a king and checkmate it with just two pawns on the sixth row.”
“I’m going to have to think more about that.”
“Requires a whole different way of thinking.”
I wonder what it would be like if we could all be open in our thinking.
Carmel and I do not share politics.
A few months ago, I told him that my friendship with him was more important to me than cancelling him out—that I would not give up on our friendship, that I was putting our friendship above being partisan.
It wasn’t easy to say as I really would rather have him reverse his position.
But it was important to do. A quote attributed to Socrates: Only when you listen attentively to your opponent’s words, is dialogue possible.
Nothing good comes from shutting people out.
According, this morning, I sent him a link so we can play chess online together.
I wonder what it would be like if more people would reach out to those with whom they politically disagree and play a game.
About thirty minutes until “all electronics off” time — 10pm—I’m still in the garage, putzing around, still chatting with Carmel.
Emmett enters and from the top of the stairs asks, “Dad! Do you want to play chess?”
He says “dad” with the tone of urgency that I use when he’s involved in a video game and i’m trying to get his attention.
“Em, do you know who I’m talking to?”
“It’s Uncle Carmel. Do you know what we are talking about?”
“No. Why? Do you want to play or not?”
“Carm, I got to go. I’m going to play a round with my boy.”
“I love you, my friend. Don’t trade queens too early on.”
“Thanks. I love you too.”
Spoiler alert: I will attempt to trade queens with Emmett, lose mine, and subsequently the game.
Rabbi Brian Zachary Mayer resides in Portland, Oregon. He is the founder and head of Religion-Outside-The-Box rotb.org, an internet-based, global group of 3.3K+ digital-age seekers. ROTB produces excellent spiritual content.