“Faith minus vulnerability and mystery equals extremism. If you’ve got all the answers, then don’t call what you do ‘faith.’”~ Brene Brown.
I could never handle being teased as a child. Maybe it was because I was the youngest, first of five, then later of six. And of course, those who love to tease do so with renewed energy when the barbs are effective. For me there was a sense of always being the smallest, the weakest, the one who knew the least that left me feeling a step behind, trying to play catch up. Of course, I am sure there are advantages as well. I was probably allowed more chances when we played games, I bet the rules were bent when necessary to give me an extra chance.
It was early in my marriage that I decided I would never (ever) play a game of monopoly with my husband. He played the fierce, contact sport level game, aggressively grabbing up all possible purchases, risking all to get all. It freaked me (and the kids) out! I don’t remember if they were ever brave enough to play with him, but (if I remember correctly), one game was enough for me. I suspect that my mother, who was also the youngest, by 8 years, of six, had a similar dislike of overly aggressive competitive spirits. She strongly objected, when playing Scrabble, to those who played only to get the highest possible score. Especially if it meant that the tiles were all cramped down in one corner. She believed in trying to provide opportunities for her competitors, and would spurn the high powered, triple score placement of a few tiles in favor of one long word that would ‘open up the board’. Meanwhile my father would play his tactical game and she would accuse him of being ‘unchristian’!
Last week I revisited my island home, the place of so many childhood memories. I met up with friends who have known me since my ‘yey deh a mi knee’ (my eyes were at knee level). On one trip up to the mountains I joined in a game of dominoes. Now those who know the Jamaican style of domino playing may imagine that this would not turn out well for me. Jamaicans have a particularly lethal style of domino playing, which includes slamming tiles on the table with such force that you think the table will break in two. It is a wonderful spectator sport, since blood, sweat and tears will be on display, along with color commentary designed to wound and demoralize. But I was playing with friends, so this would not be at that level.
I suppose I should mention (which I assumed my playmates knew) that when it comes to dominoes I am a rank amateur. Of course I understand the concept, but the professionals are able to ‘count cards’; strategize placement; analyze the board and their competitors hands to know when to play which domino. I won a couple of games through sheer luck and the most basic of ‘counting’ (to be honest I think I was wrong there too, I thought there were 6 of each number, not 7!), and somehow managed not to be the person who was given ‘love’ (a grossly inappropriate term!).
As the game wore on I was getting more confused and frustrated. I was hearing terms like ‘hard five’ (what on earth is a hard five?) and being told that I should have won the game. My playmates were yelling instructions, trying to get me to understand how to play. I felt myself reverting to my 5-year-old self, wanting to sulk and give up. But no parent appeared to tell the others to ‘play nicely’ to give me a chance. At some point a 4th player joined us (I no longer had to struggle to hold 9 tiles), and then the pressure was on. I could not understand the concept that the idea is to always give the competitors ‘love’, that you always play to 6-0, and restart whenever each pair have won a game (that doesn’t seem very friendly!). And because I still was only half getting the concepts of strategizing and looking at possible outcomes and counting and remembering who had passed when, I was instrumental in helping my partner give our competitors 0-6! Yes, we ended the game in complete defeat.
There are times when life teaches us lessons, when we learn something new about ourselves. And it is not always that we are stronger, or more able than we thought. We don’t always discover an inner core that kept us going through tough times. Sometimes we find that we are weaker than we thought. We may congratulate ourselves on being evolved, on being able to weather any storm, to accept harsh criticism without taking it personally; to rise above with calm serenity. We have too much compassion to lose our cool, nothing disturbs our zen-like attitude to life. And then a simple game of dominoes may reveal that we are still vulnerable, we can still have our feelings hurt over things that we should just laugh off.
Brene Brown (the author quoted above) has written extensively on the power of vulnerability; that those who are not prepared to expose their weaknesses do not experience as much joy. We have been brought up to always stand strong; to fake it till we make it. Yet that demonstrates to others that there is shame in weakness, that we should hide and suppress those feelings of fear and hopelessness. Instead we should acknowledge that we all have times of doubt and loss, but we also have the resilience to climb up and out of those troughs and stand once more on higher ground.
This Friday morning I hope you have the strength to acknowledge your weakness, and resilience to forge ahead. Have a wonderful weekend, Family! And I promise not to try to play dominoes with the pros any time soon!