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Bernardo Strozzi: St. Lawrence Distributing the Treasures of the Church (circa 1625)
" … maybe—just maybe—The Muse was counting cards again."

Board Games bore me. Trivial Pursuit seems aptly-enough named and begs a big "Why?" from my corner of the room. Sorry, likewise, seems properly, even preemptively labeled. Card games might show off some player's memory and observational talents, skills that seem to hold little relevance for me in my world. Though Fundamentalists might strongly disagree, I firmly believe that this universe operates quite skillfully by employing simple randomness, though I freely admit that this belief fails to produce the most compelling explanatory stories. Being human, most of us can concoct some fable revealing an underlying strategy or a subtle conspiracy holding everything together. Anything's better than the same old tale of random molecules disinterestingly bumping into each other, though the more exquisite stories insist that some God or other attends to even this tiniest level of detail. Bored Games, like religions, seem like attempts to fool ourselves for our own amusement.

Even the ancients found reason to amuse themselves by drawing clever conclusions based upon the results of rolling dice, a stunning paradox many might have missed.
Ancient Hindus favored a game called Snakes&Ladders, later Americanized into Chutes and Ladders, a game completely ruled by randomness. A player rolled a die to determine how many 'spaces' (Bored Games always wisely employ 'spaces' to represent content) they might move their piece. Each 'space' on the game board represented a step toward The Goal, displayed at the very top of the board by a nirvana-like image. Achieving the goal before any other 'player' purported to be the 'purpose' of the game, but between beginning and end, some 'spaces' were crossed with images of either a snake or a ladder. If a player's piece, as directed by pure randomness, ended up on a space where a snake image appeared, he'd have to move his piece down the snake image to the space where that image ended, a setback. The opposite occurred if a player's piece landed on a ladder space, for that player could move his piece up the ladder image until it ended, a boost ahead. Back and forth, then, 'players' rolled the die and moved their 'piece' forward or behind according to the snakes and ladders they encountered until one 'player's' piece arrived at nirvana.

Arriving at the goal first said nothing about any player's skill, since randomness ruled the whole shebang. A child playing with even a cruel competitive dad, might reasonably succeed against him, though even then, some would insist that they possessed some superior skill for achieving this. I suppose it's healthy to feed a child's ego with such delusions of powers nobody possesses, though Snakes&Ladders seems a particularly vacuous basis upon which build self-esteem. The Game Of Life we all play seems little different. We presume the rich are smart rather than lucky. We believe that losers somehow had their fate coming as if a just God really was playing dice with the universe to equitably disperse curses. I've sometimes found ample reason to curse my own fate and also, fortunately, found justification to think I must have been smarter than most others, probably both judgements borderline delusional. Perhaps playing Snakes&Ladders was always more about testing players' reactions to fate than opportunities to show off how very clever anyone was.

HeadingHomeward has felt like an extended adult home version of Snakes&Ladders, with daily visits from good fortune as well as bad, boosts ahead as well as serious setbacks. Still, The Muse and I seem to be nicely progressing toward our goal, sometimes even feeling particularly skilled at playing this game. Home still lures us on, fortunately, for few things more undermine the purpose of playing any game than to lose faith in the usefulness of achieving the goal. Some seem to get tangled up in snakes along the way, angry enough to upset the board and terminally disrupt 'play.' Others can get smug when their 'piece' repeatedly lands on ladders and avoids snakes, leaving an uninteresting competition, even for the winner. A proper progression includes a mix of snakes and ladders, with all players set back and succeeding in some semblance of order despite the chaos snakes induce. Everybody wins as well as loses in every pursuit.

We could get smuggy about our progress. Yesterday we met The Stager who introduced herself as a Landlocked Greek Sea Goddess, a pleasing metaphor, indeed. She came to explain how selling a home is an act of marketing and how the owners tend to do little things that undermine their own purpose of selling the place for the highest possible price. They might try to show their home as if it were a shrine to their revered personal lifestyle, for instance, when every buyer's more interested in projecting how their lives might work in the space. Owners could, in other words, become Landlocked Greek Sea Goddesses, unable to demonstrate their prowess. The Muse and I were instantly convinced! We have no business becoming Sea Goddesses here on the high desert. The Muse and I could move out
first and sell after, a ladder of surprising beneficence. We could be actually HeadingHomeward a week before we'd expected. Calls to the movers and a quick check on our second Covid vaccination appointment realigned our fate. We seem likely to achieve our goal well ahead of schedule. How terribly clever of us. Right?

Well, no, not clever at all, other than the explanatory story we concocted to inflate our own self-esteem. We should properly ascribe this turn of events to that benevolent God of Randomness playing dice with his universe, and offer whatever thanks he considers appropriate. We're experiencing a happy accident for which we were ill-prepared but will still accept in the spirit in which it was so freely given, which, like Snakes&Ladders, was utterly informed by randomness. Or, maybe—just maybe—The Muse was counting cards again.

©2021 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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