Playing The Game

Who would have thought that Chutes and Ladders, a game of chance, would have taught me something. 


My son received the game Chutes and Ladders this past year and has recently started enjoying playing it with me, either before he goes to daycare or at the end of the day before bedtime. 


I noticed feelings of impatience and boredom come over me this morning as we spun the spinner, again and again, but only to each find ourselves toward the bottom of the board, riding down the chutes, of which there are ten on the board, compared to nine ladders that advance one toward the finish. 


I observed that my son didn’t show the same impatience that I did. Interesting right?


He just kept spinning and spinning, and of course I didn’t refuse when he offered to spin for me.


As I watched our pieces jump across the board and slide down, I noticed how most of the chutes would end in a position that would place us before the #28 block, where the longest ladder on the board would advance us closer to the finish, onto the #84 block. In this way, despite repeated retreats toward the bottom of the board, we would be optimally positioned and hopeful to potentially land on the #28 block, to advance quickly on the board toward the finish. 


Interestingly, the three chutes at the top of the board landed on several blocks that preceded the #80 block, which contained a ladder leading you to the finish. 


You can see where my mind was at – getting to the finish. My son was thinking the same thing, as he innocently skipped spaces and rode up the ladders trying to rise to the top.


This was a game. As I settled into the rhythm of the game, I came up with my own interpretation of the chutes and ladders. It was interesting how the chutes and ladders were positioned just so. With the lens I was choosing to use, I saw the chutes as almost inevitable obstacles, but followed by the possibility of recovery through strategically placed ladders on the board.


This interpretation made me think about life (big surprise!) and it made me wonder about the inevitable and unexpected challenges that most of us will face in one way or another, and how these so often feel like setbacks. Well, it is up to us to decide whether we will interpret something as a setback or not, but even if we take that as truth, what if we could anticipate, and even create, the ladders that will raise us up? What if we could have faith, while in the toughest part of these setbacks, that these ladders exist and are available, as long as we are willing to find them?


Well, then I learned another lesson too --- because today when we played the game we rarely ever landed on a block with a ladder. It was relentless. Then what saved us in the end? The spinner. As long as we kept spinning, we kept moving, Eventually as I made it to the finish first, my son pouted and nearly started to cry. I had decided ahead of time that I wouldn’t fake a loss. He had to learn to handle occasional losses in life and look beyond the win. So just as I landed on the “sun” as he calls it, I gathered up my energy and gave him a pep talk and cheered him on to keep spinning the spinner. And wouldn’t you know it – he kept spinning 1s, 2s, and 3s… It took him a while, but he started smiling and laughing and picking up energy as we moved his piece a few spaces at a time. Somehow he managed to avoid the chutes in the last stretch of the game, and yes, he too made it to the end. And he was so happy.


When in life you think that there is nothing else left, sometimes you just have to decide to keep spinning. 


This evening, out of curiosity, I quickly looked up the game’s history on Wikipedia, and noted it was actually an ancient Indian game of Snakes and Ladders called Moksha Patam, meant to teach children lessons in morality, where the game itself was a journey through life, and the snakes and ladders associating with various vices and virtues, respectively. As I looked at the gameboard that we had played on earlier that day, I noticed how the boys and girls were similarly depicted being “naughty” or performing “good” deeds. This point of the game was not important to me, but it stood out to me that after years of familiarity and playing this game, that element of the game had never occurred to me. I had just missed that detail. 


And so I come to my final conclusion, that in the game of life, it may be more important and interesting to pay attention to the details along the way, than to create a monotonous journey of spin after spin to the finish.

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