J, a good looking young guy with hair in a gussied up version of bedhead wanders up to the table. He is friendly but seemed distracted. He started by telling me that he is in the park today mainly to play speed chess. But what is pressing on him more heavily are his dinner plans.
J’s father died less than a week ago. He makes a joke about it but it didn’t have any heart in it and wasn’t really funny. J ,of his quip, says
this is what my family does – we mock pain.
Nonetheless he goes on with his explanation of his current situation.
Two different friends have asked me over to dinner tonight. They both want to check in on how I am doing in the wake of the death of my dad.
Then J says heavily…
I feel like I have an obligation to go.
J feels that heavy obligation to go to one or the other for two compelling reasons.
1) both are close friends and each friend has a relative with them who were dear friends with his father and;
2) he is busted. totally broke and has only eaten ice pops for the last two or three days (both shock and poverty are at play) and he would like to have a real meal.
He says the choice is really arbitrary but for some reason he is struggling with it and asks for a creative approach…
Where should I have dinner?
The noiseless and patient space of death rested there between us for a long moment.
After offering my sympathies I asked him
Is going to dinner feeling like choosing between the least amount of pain?
J assented to that fair assessment but that one had to be chosen due to the constraints mentioned.
Are you grateful for the offers from these friends?
Without hesitation J expressed his gratitude but on the heels of that was the gnawing sense of obligation. I wanted to return to his desire to play chess and explore if something might be there for him that was yet unexplored.
I mentioned that I was, at best, a poor chess player but decent at Reversi/Othello. They don’t have too much in common in terms of strategy but that both games reveal hidden lines of force that start to reveal themselves when you get past the first few moves. Moves emerge along them or in opposition to them. The intelligent player knows how to move with these lines and perhaps move those lines to your advantage for strong play.
J was nodding with me.
If you know where these lines are you can make appropriate sacrifices of pieces for seeming short term loss but actually serve the longer game.
J knew I was going somewhere with this direction but my strategy was just opening up and starting to make a way forward.
So what if the lines of force in the situation in the chess game of your life today pointed towards not going to either dinner? Why choose between two pains? Why move in a way that will sacrifice pawns or bishops or knights for no good reason? If you are grateful for the invitations – tell them so but say that it is too soon. They, being friends will understand. Play a longer game.
Grief can fog reason and obscure vision and amazingly J said that he actually hadn’t even considered not going but saw the chess analogy making sense to him. He was totally relieved, almost confessing, saying that he does actually just need a walk, some space and to play some chess more than talking with well intentioned friends. So we had cracked open a real need of his – to be alone in his disorientation and his grief and let his love for his father be known in that way at this point.
But dinner still called.
He told me where he lived and suddenly it was easy. I told him where a Fujianese restaurant was at the corner of Eldridge and Grand where he could get a huge meal for $3…after calling his friends he could take a walk there for dinner, walk back and play chess all night. This was total relief. He had three bucks. He liked Chinese. The whole thing had changed now. He was playing longer and seeing the lines of force that served him more deeply.
We talked a bit more about his dad and how his mom is relieved that the suffering is over.
He thanked me and he and I shook hands in that way that guys sometimes do when a handshake actually stands for crying while being hugged.
The chess board is an interesting space. Though it is called the King’s Game and is commonly thought of as a war game, it has 28 boxes on the perimeter making it aligned with the moon. The most powerful piece on it is a woman – the queen. And in the same way that the moon is regulator of tides and impacts our lives in very tangible ways the chessboard, this feminine field, became the space that J found himself able to submit to grief and not fall victim to a binary choice. He was able to find a mysterious third.
Look for the mysterious third in feminine spaces. Tremendous things can open there.
If you think a conversation or a creative approach like this could be of use to you where you are now…