Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Musings of a Philosophical Bear: It's All a Game

by Malcolm Travers

When I was a believer and went to church regularly, there was this married couple I used to eavesdrop on the regular. The husband often bragged to his friends about his golf game, but his wife would tell another story. When he came home from golf, she knew not to ask how the game went. As much as he put on a front with his friends about how good he was, she knew it went one of two ways. He would talk about it for hours, about each great shot he took which bored the hell out of her, or he'd be upset for days ranting over how this or that is unfair or what was wrong with the country club. One day the husband came home clearly upset about the game, but he wasn't talking to her. He wasn't being rude, just passive aggressive. Normally she would have put up with it, but for some reason she had enough, and she told him "honey it's just a game." And he said "it's more than a game, it's a way of life, golf is life" She wanted to roll her eyes, but she stopped herself and said, "well then if golf is life then that means life is just a game." 

Sometimes we take things too seriously. It's hard not to when we get caught up in our feelings about how this or that turned out. But when life is getting us down, when things seem unfair or hopeless, it's a clear sign that we need a little perspective. We need to realize that we may not be able to choose the things that happen to us, but sometimes we can pause and think about the way we want to react to them. Life has its ups and downs and in the long run this thing that went wrong, this thing that has us so upset, that seems so important now, may be insignificant later. In the larger context of the world and life, it may turn out to be the best thing that could have ever happened. Right now we just can't know. So why are we letting it upset us so much?

The reason anything is important is how close we are to it. Imagine a terrorist attack. Hundreds maybe thousands of people killed, but if it happens overseas, it's a lot less meaningful. Now imagine this terrorist attack occurred in a country you just visited a few days ago. Notice how much more important that story is than the dozens of other stories you probably just skimmed over in the past? The events in our lives are as important to us as our proximity to them. If something is overwhelming to you, if you can't get out of a vicious pattern of thoughts or behaviors, it probably means you're too close to have any meaningful perspective. Sometimes you just have to wait it out and other times you need someone to talk to who isn't so close to it.

As I've grown older, perspective is the one thing I've learned over and over again. The more events in my life I have to look at, the more and more I realize that things I thought were life-altering were momentary disturbances. I will catch myself laughing at inappropriate times. At first, I couldn't begin to explain why, but later I realized that I was reflecting on troubling moments in my life. I burst out laughing at how ridiculous life can be. If life is a game, the goal is to try to make sense of what's happening. We can do this in a serious way, or we can have fun while we do it. The thing about this puzzle is there is no picture on the front of the box, and the pieces fit together in many different ways. Sounds frustrating, but once you start seeing images, it starts to get fun.

I used to fret over how hard it is to find a good man to date, not to mention be in a relationship with, and it would depress me. It still does at times. I think about how everyone I know wants this same thing. So with all these good people who are looking for good people, to settle down with or go out with; you would think it would be a lot easier. Now this could be a great source of anger, frustration, resentment or sadness, and for many it is, but the absurdity of it all sometimes makes me laugh. Don't get me wrong; I'm not laughing at your pain any more than I would laugh at my own. The absurdity of the situation can only become funny when you detach yourself from the outcome. If I didn't know what it was like to be heartbroken most dating situations would be hilarious.

I couldn't believe I was getting dumped again. Well it depends on how you define being dumped. You have to be in a relationship to be dumped, right? So while I was getting dumped, it seemed to upset him a lot more than it did me. I think he was looking for absolution. He didn't want to be the bad guy and other than himself, I was the only one who could give him that. And for a time I did consider him the bad guy. I had felt used and discarded. It seemed like there could have been more there if he'd given it a chance, but he just gave up before it even started. And so there was a time that I made him into the villain of my story, and I was the victim. But talking to him later I realized that maybe I had put the pieces of this puzzle together in a way that only someone too close to the situation could put them together.

After some time had passed, I started to see it differently. Maybe he was the victim of his own fears. He was looking for something in me that he couldn't find, and it clearly pained him. And even though I wanted him to hurt for hurting me, I couldn't help but feel compassion for him. He was telling me that he'd met someone else that he was dating again. It just so happened to be someone I knew. And it dawned on me that they would be perfect for each other, but it wasn't going to last. Not because there was anything wrong with either of them, but because he needs to address his fears. I called it a fear of commitment, but maybe that isn't what he feared. I think what he feared was wasting his time, investing his resources and emotional energy in someone who was just going to leave or turn out to be someone he never wanted in the first place. Whatever he wants to call that, he is afraid.

I can see why calling it a fear of commitment seems illogical since that's all he can talk about. When it came to dating, all he wants to do is settle down. How can you be actively seeking the very thing you're afraid of? He asked me when his search would be over. I said maybe there is no over, maybe you're just supposed to enjoy the journey. I became a writer because besides food shelter and companionship, stories are the most important thing that we need as human beings. Stories help us make sense of the world and for some reason, we need things to make sense. But the fact is that sometimes things aren't going to make sense. As hard as we may try me may never know what holds us back from what we really want or ever understand why we want it. Sometimes we just need to make peace with the confusion. 

All we have is now. There is this and then there is that. Stories are what help us connect this and that. But the truth is much more simple. This is all there is. That thing you're worried about, that plan you're making and every thought and emotion you have about that plan is only a mental process, and it will only become a reality later. And then you'll have another and another until you die. But what ties it together is the story you tell about it. You can enjoy telling that story, or it can pain you. That story can make you satisfied, or it can leave you wanting more. That's up to you and how you play the game called life.

Life is just  a series of moments. In one moment we were a couple, very happy together, doing all the happy things couples do, and in the next moment we weren't. Later I wasn't sure if we were ever a couple. I mean we did say we were just friends, right? But in those moments it didn't feel like we were just friends. I was still trying to make sense of that. I was still trying to write a story about why it happened when I started to laugh. I could cast him as the villain, talk about how he just used me just to get what he wanted then threw me away the moment I became inconvenient. But why? I knew that no matter how much he looks for happiness with another person he'll never find it because once he does, he's afraid his lover will abandon him. Both are true. Both are just stories. And when I realized that I laughed.

There is no scoreboard in the sky. There are no winners or losers, but it's still a game. Some games aren't about winning. Some games are just about getting further along on the board. Some games you focus on leveling up your character, making alliances and exploring worlds. Some games are just about making sense of the pieces scattered on the table. The point of the game is to have fun and to feel a sense of accomplishment in the process. Some people aren't good at those games. They get bored and give up. I hope I will not be that person. I like this game. I'm having too much fun to quit now. I'm addicted to this game called life.