Friday, July 8, 2011

It's in the cards

Life’s lessons can show up anywhere, in places where you least expect them.

My mother-in-law used to like to play a card game called Skip-Bo, and my husband and I used to play it with her when we would visit her in Virginia. Lately Kevin and I have taken to playing a few rounds together most evenings. I like this game because it doesn’t require any brilliant strategizing; winning is the result of getting the right cards at the right time.

While waiting for my husband to take his turn during a recent game, it occurred to me that the rules of Skip-Bo are also very applicable to the unpredictability of life in general, and my lifestyle in particular.

As someone whose paychecks come from part-time, come-what-may teaching gigs and painting sales, there is a good deal of uncertainty in my life from one month to the next and even one week to the next. My way of dealing with this has been to be a super-organized over-planner, with charts and lists running all the time. I guess it makes me feel like I have some measure of control. In particular, I have always kept calendars with the upcoming six months visible all at once posted on the wall beside my desk. This way, I always know what’s coming up tomorrow, next week, next month, and several months down the road.

I realized as I was playing Skip-Bo the other night that, not only does this hyper-vigilance about my schedule and what’s coming up make me uncomfortable, but it doesn’t actually prepare me for whatever ultimately comes (which isn’t always what I’ve written on the calendar).

At first when playing Skip-Bo, I started out constantly scanning my cards and anticipating the various scenarios that might come up, depending on what cards my husband played and what cards I might pick up when my turn came. But after playing the game for a while, I realized that this was a waste of time, as I couldn’t predict what would actually be in front of me, on the table and in my hands, when it came time to play my cards. So I stopped this advance problem-solving, and started enjoying chatting with my husband and listening to the fun music we play in the background while we’re playing cards.

As soon as I thought of this, I removed my pages and pages of calendars from the wall, and I instantly felt better. I no longer looked at it all the time and felt like a failure if it was too empty, or concerned about how I’d get everything done if it was too full.

Since that calendar came down, I am much more relaxed about life in general. I’m not constantly “running my motor” mentally, trying to figure out what might happen if a certain chain of events occurs. I have a much more “come what may” attitude about my life, and I seem to be better able to enjoy each day on its own merits rather than concerning myself with how that day’s events might affect some future experience.

Maybe I’m just generally getting older and wiser. Maybe I've lived long enough to know that it's OK to let go, at least a little bit. I figure it’s a sign that there are lessons to be learned even from a little pack of cards.

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