Monday, April 20, 2015

More than just a game

It's been a while since I've written about my little pals, Satish and Danta.   Busy schedules have kept us on different ends of the city for much of the school year, but I think of them every day and always look forward to our next play date.  A few weeks ago Satish invited me to attend his class musical and what fun to see him all dressed up as a pirate, singing and dancing to his heart's content. 
Of course my favorite line in the play was his:  "To err is 'arrrrgh' is pirate!" Afterward, over bowls of frozen yogurt, I asked Satish if he understood the humor behind it. 
"You know that's a play on a line by Shakespeare," I smiled.  "At least I think that's who wrote it."
"Who's that?" Satish asked.
Oh, what fun to introduce the Bard to a kid whose innate wisdom trumps mine!  "To err means to make a mistake," I explained.  "And all humans make mistakes, right?"
"Uh huh," Satish nodded, shoveling in a maraschino cherry. 
"Your line about saying 'arrrgh' was hilarious," I said.  "But Shakespeare wrote it:  To err is forgive, divine."
Of course I didn't have to explain forgiveness to my little friend as for years he's been a stellar example for me to follow.

This past weekend I was able to watch Danta play in a soccer match.  I've practiced with him in his back yard, but I've never been able to get to a game, so it was great fun to watch him warm up with his team in anticipation of the competition.
Satish was dribbling his own soccer ball in an empty field nearby.  When I arrived, he ran over to me and said, "Danta's team is going to get smoked."  (I love it when he uses euphemisms I've taught him.)
I laughed out loud.  "No kidding.  Why's that?"
Satish bounced the soccer ball on his knees.  "The other team is way better than his...I've seen them play."
"Well, I guess we'll see."
When the match started, Satish provided the play-by-play, telling me what his coaches would say, what he's seen other players do in the same situations, and what he's learned over the years as a team player.  Then the conversation turned to the recent March Madness tournament, then dialed back to the Super Bowl and what kind of season the Detroit Lions had this year.  Satish had much to say about it all...not that I understood it all...and it was great fun to see the animation in his voice and body language.
As the first half wore on, Danta's team was taking a serious beating.  Even though the goalie did his best, the other team was able to score again and again...and again.  And with every point, Satish would wonder why the coach didn't change the game plan.
"Well, you know it's only a game," I said.  "Maybe he wants the kids to enjoy being on a team."
"Sometimes it's more than just a game, Katie," Satish said seriously.
I decided to bite.  After all, my pal is pretty sharp, so I was curious as to what he'd say when I said, "Give me an example of when it's more than just a game."
"Well, you know if it's the Super Bowl or the World Cup or something like that," he explained.  "The whole world is watching, so it's not just how well you're playing."
"True," I winked.  "And I know you love to play to win...but you always play fairly, too."
"Yeah, I do."
Whenever I spend time with the boys, we usually play a game of some sort.  Whether it's Chess or Parcheesi, The Game of Life or Farkle, Satish follows the rules.  Always.  Well, not always...we bend them a bit when playing Life because I like to buy a house I can afford (and still be able to purchase insurance) so I won't get smoked by the spin of the wheel which leaves it to chance.  Still, Satish and I are always up front about the rules we'll follow during the game and even when he wins and does his little "victory dance," we always shake hands and say, "Good game." Then I remind him that I won, too, because spending time with him is just as good as being the victor.    
When the second half of Danta's game came to pass, Satish's father noticed a change in the opposing team.  "The coach must have told the kids to just let it be a passing game so Danta's team can practice."
Sure enough when I watched the kids run toward Danta's goalie, instead of taking the shot, they just passed the ball on to another teammate.  Sometimes Danta's team was able to intercept it.  Sometimes not.  But the game became much more interesting, at least to me.
"This is one way soccer can be more than just a game," I said to Satish.  "There's no 'I' in the word 'team.'  Do you know what I mean?"
He nodded.  "Yeah...and it's good sportsmanship to not smoke 'em too badly."
"Right...being a good sport can be more important than winning," I replied. 
"Uh huh, Danta might even get another bracelet today," Satish said.  "He got two in a row for being a good sport."
That didn't surprise me at all, for whenever we play chess Danta doesn't really mind if I win.  We have the same's more fun to just play the game. 

When I was in grade school I played one season of softball and hated it because the coach mercilessly yelled at us as we weren't playing up to his standards.  I couldn't stand going up to bat and striking out (which I did on many occasions).  I loathed standing in the outfield even more, praying that a pop fly would knock me out so I would be dragged to the sidelines where I could wait out the rest of the innings.
Years later I trained with the high school track team, but never competed, partly because I knew I was the weakest link and would hold them back.  For a few years I dutifully spent the winter months conditioning in the weight room and running up and down Bowsher High School's endless stairways.  When the weather broke in the spring, I ran miles around the track, encouraging the sprinters and setting up the hurdles.  But when it came time to compete, I let the better athletes step up to the starting line. 
As an adult I happily stood behind the curtain at the Toledo Rep theater, stage managing a handful of plays.  I was delighted to be a part of the action, but didn't need to be the center of attention.  And to this day, I'm more content with watching my yoga students spontaneously surpass me than I am demonstrating an advanced position.  It happened again this morning, and I wish I had bracelets to pass out to my students as a tangible way to honor their inner guidance which is the best teacher they will ever have.

It's not that I don't want to be successful in the real game of life...I do.  But the definition of accomplishment has changed a lot for me in the past year.  It's not about the number of yoga students I have or how many books I'm selling online or otherwise.  I don't need a seven million dollar beach house to let me know I've made it in the publishing world. 
Success has many faces, many of which I recognize, some I'm just beginning to comprehend.  But seeing the joy in Danta's face when he came up to me after the soccer game let me know that even in losing a match, there's still a lot to be gleaned.
"We lost 9 to 1," he said offhandedly.
"Oh well, that's alright," I smiled.  "Nine is my favorite number...and you did a great job with your hustle!"
"Are you coming over to play games at our house?" he beamed.
"I would if you weren't going to Michigan tonight."
"Oh, yeah...rats!" Danta replied.  "Well, the next time you come over, bring your Harry Potter...that's my favorite game."
Already Danta had let go of the loss and was eager to think of what might come next.
Later as I watched the boys drive away with their father, I realized that Satish was right...sometimes a game is more than just a game, especially when it teaches patience and kindness, compassion and clarity.  When it shows us that to make mistakes, then learn from them is one of the best ways to be more fully human.  And perhaps most importantly, when we can be more forgiving of others...and of ourselves...we can tap into that which makes us truly divine.

And by the by...I did a little research on that famous line.  Mea culpa.