| LifeTakes |


Not so, Dovid says. When you keep your pieces safe, you’re not playing chess right

“Want to play chess, Ma?”

I stare at this teen, my son Dovid, wondering why he’s asking. Because he knows, good and well, that I hate playing chess. There’s something about the game that hits me the wrong way. It’s emotionally draining to kill precious pawns, figure out how my rook can best protect himself, and rodeo with that elusive horse.

But Dovid is standing there, anticipation tickling his face, and I can’t say no.

I say yes, one game. He nods, sets out the chess pieces while I get a glass of water, squirt in lemon juice.

What’s disconcerting about playing chess with my son, anyone really, is that it makes me feel inadequate. Hey, I can play games with my kids and lose graciously because it’s bonding time and all that. What I can’t do is play chess because I always lose.

It drops me back into childhood, those feelings of stupidity  that crept up my chest when I played chess with my younger sister. She always triumphed, leaving me, the big sister, scrambling for safer recreation, like reading and playing house. Then, when I was 12, I got smarter, and stopped playing chess with her — or anyone.

We take our initial turns, Dovid and I, surrendering a young pawn into the battlefield. I study the board to contemplate my next move, which piece I can keep safe. But Dovid, he hangs it all out, moves his queen into enemy territory. I shiver. For his safety. Queens are supposed to be moved for emergencies only. I consider saying so, but there’s intensity in his eyes, and I keep back. He’ll learn with time.

I gingerly move a second pawn, studying Dovid’s bishop encroaching my space.

“Checkmate, Ma.”

“What?” I stare at the sly smile breaking on Dovid’s face and ogle the board. We hardly started playing, and my king is trapped between my own pieces and Dovid’s threatening ones. I kick my feet under the table. “How did you do that?”

He laughs. “It’s called the four-move checkmate.” Moishi, my nephew, taught him this game changer yesterday. Dovid was eager to try it out on unsuspecting me.

I follow Dovid’s movements as he shows me the path his regal family took to victory. He was disregarding every rule I always played by, putting his pieces in danger’s way and then winning the game. It didn’t make sense.

I ask him about it, this paradox that doesn’t fit into my brain. Because life taught me that in order to play well, you have to protect yourself first.

Not so, Dovid says. When you keep your pieces safe, you’re not playing chess right. The goal is to get the king, and the best way to do so is to use the powerful players.  Protection is the second priority, not the first.

Oh. Is that my cue to drop the shield I often carry? Or at least move it a little out of the way? Can I let go of my decade-long hide-at-home freelancing job and go for that position a business acquaintance suggested last week?

I wasn’t pursuing it because it’s too scary. Can I put myself out there, do things that bring on the potential of pride even if there may be pain? Is that the way to play the game of life instead of cowering behind the fort? How exactly does that work, to put myself in harm’s way, so I can go forward, do what I’ve always wanted?

I was going to find out.


“Let’s play again,” I say.

Did I just do that? Ask to play chess?

This time, I go first. Push my pawn into battle, coach the queen to take the helm, bishop on the ready. Dovid stages a swift counterattack, but I’m on it, use the strength of my rook, jumping the horse. I risk moves that allow Dovid to crash my pieces off the board, the mighty and the weak ones. I’ve never played like this before, eyebrows furrowed, contemplating each move as if my life depended on my strategy.

I want to say I won the game, that I played so well I surpassed all my inadequacies and finally made it. But I won’t. Not only because I lost the game, but also because I really did win. Something else: the realization that I can cradle my concerns in my left arm but crusade for challenge with the right.

Later that day, I sit down at my desk, fingers poised on the keyboard, writing that résumé and cover letter. Because I can face the world even if there is potential for rejection.

It’s the most satisfying way to play the game of life.

Yes. I got the position. And it’s nice. Uncertainties, insecurities, and all.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 773)

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