I played chess this weekend for the first time in months. My opponent is fantastic and I generally accept that losing is a strong possibility. But, I play anyway. I set the pieces. I consider the board carefully. I choose moves and plan advances based on my limited but growing command of the art that is chess. And then, I lose my QUEEN! For any chess player, amateur or otherwise, this is a turning point in the game. I think people who say they don’t care about losing the all-angle assault power of the queen are playing more poker than chess. They care. Believe me, they do. But for me, the loss of the queen is demoralizing and dark. It shuts down my thinking and sometimes even my interest in continued play. I immediately think that I can’t win.
Soooo, I did lose the game this weekend. But I gained an awareness of my attachment to this piece that I didn’t have before. After hearing a report about students playing chess who don’t think beyond certain high value pieces – bishops, rooks, knights, and yes, queens, I recognize the behavior. Apparently, they freeze. The awareness also came from the end of our game. My opponent – adept, sharp, miles ahead of me – missed his own checkmate. He knew I was in check but didn’t realize he had won. I did. I told him it was over -look at that queen, she has it handled! He peered over, cocked his head to the side and agreed, he had won.
I considered that for a while that night and on into the next day. I shared my thoughts with him and then I shared my thoughts with one of his fellow chess Teachers. Upper case. Because a chess Teacher is more than someone who teaches students to play and win. This person teaches students to play and win, play and lose, play again, apply to life, seek understanding and therefore win whether you lose the game or not. When you work with a chess Teacher, you win every time. So here we are the day after the game. I told the Teacher about my revelation, we chatted some more, I said my goodbyes and started to walk away. Position one, I was glad I shared. Position two, I thought, “hey I should write this down.” Position three, four and five – I’m no longer counting steps. I’m thinking of the queen.
She moves fluidly around the board rushing to rescues and defenses. She takes out threats and travels whether protected or not. Your queen demands focus and attention. You can’t leave her exposed. You can’t miss an opportunity to cover her. You watch her…closely…because while the game will prevent you from taking the King off the throne with an intentional move into harm’s way, the queen is your responsibility. The game will not warn you. The game will take her and make you play on. The queen will go quietly and expect you to win anyway. I’m all the way across the room now – and walking out the door when it hits me. I tell my husband, no longer in the role of chess opponent, my thoughts about this. I tell him “Babe, I had to breathe this in because…” he stops me, he sheds a tear. He understands. The queen is my mom.
My mom died six months ago. She went quietly after sweeping across my board and protecting my plays for forty plus years. To say that I miss her is a definitive moment of the inadequacy and constraint of language. The irony in it being that she herself gave me language before I knew what it was, enforced my use of it and confirmed me a writer before I believed it. All as recently as the day before she died. She gave me words. Words that cut across boards of all sorts and dive into spaces to save everything. Signing everything with the words that headline this blog and my life: love and prayers, mom.
She expected me to play on and win. She expected me to take out the other king. The other king is a metaphor for that which would stamp out love, hope, happiness, and life. I pressed my hand onto my husband’s and said, “I have to learn how to win without her.” I realize I have potential. I decide I have to get across that board. I realize I am on a journey. Today and everyday. I can make it and I can win. Crown me. Queens leave legacies and return to the board. Get across. Win.
Love and prayers,