Sunday, May 24, 2009

Squirrels and Board Games

The woods that trimmed the edges of the two-line highway were veiled in the dull light of an overcast sky. The grass and the leaves were still in the heaviness of a threatened rainstorm. Mine was the only car on the road that rolled ahead in easy waves.

While I thought about people and places far away, two squirrels came darting out of the ditch directly in front of the car. How odd, I thought in the split second it took them to cross into my lane, that two would have started across together, one leading, the other following.

The first one scurried (Scurrying being the only mode of perambulation a squirrel has in his repertoire.) straight across the road and disappeared into the high grass on the other side. The second squirrel, the follower, got almost all the way across, stopped, stood up on his back legs and unexplainably, yet not surprisingly, turned to go back the other way.

I couldn’t stop. Had not enough time to slow down or even swerve to miss him. It took less than 3 seconds. I looked in my rear-view mirror and saw only a small dark spot near the white center-line.

Then I heard myself talking to the squirrel. "Why did you do that? Why didn’t you just keep going? You started across; you would have made it! Crazy squirrel!"

And another voice, my same voice, but the one that knows things, said, "It’s all about risk."

The stack of board games in our house growing up included Monopoly and Clue and Scrabble. We had a Parchesi at one point and Checkers, both regular and Chinese. And after three Christmases of asking, I finally got a Barbie - Queen of the Prom game. What we didn’t have, never had was Risk.

In its red box on the shelf at McConnell’s Dime Store, it never became the object of my interest or desire. Even then, at 8 and 10 and 12, I wanted a sure thing. I wanted guarantees, promises, absolute assurances.

For a long time it worked. I played only those games I knew I could win, spent my time on things I knew I could do well, set my sights on goals that were easily within my grasp. But somewhere along the way I realized that something was missing. I realized that I wasn’t growing and I wasn’t having any fun.

What I also realized was that the only way to do either of those things was to stop hoarding my Monopoly money, stop solving make-believe murders and stop dressing for a pretend prom. It was time to take a few chances.

Since then I’ve been each of the squirrels at various times. I’ve been the first squirrel and made it across the highway, heart racing, limbs trembling and grinning from ear to ear. And I’ve been the second squirrel, the one who froze in fear and tried to return to the old place, only to be crushed by something big and loud.

I have been exhilarated and deliriously happy. I have been despondent and desperately disappointed. I have been warmly content and I have been coldly morose. And every moment of every emotion has been infinitely better than the lethargy of being a little metal thimble making its way around a cardboard square over and over and over again.

Each morning we wake up on one side of the highway. Some days it’s good to just roll over and stare up at the flotilla of gauzy white clouds. On other days, though, the breeze and the sunlight and the smell of something pleasant that we can’t quite identify lure us to the edge of the asphalt. And on those days, there is simply nothing left to do except run headlong into the open.

Copyright 2009

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