A Confederation of Dunces

Sometimes we lose our sense of proportion. We’re crazy General Custer on the wrong end of Bull Run; perhaps we¬†are tasked with fighting off the innumerable Persian hordes. Inside of us throbs a certain something. Our pulse quickens, we yell out, “This is Sparta!” and go on to glory – well, not always. Our actions can descend into caricature.

An older gentleman, Gary, played a very interesting chess game last Tuesday. After an hour, all but two pieces and pawns remained on the board. Both players had approached the Tarrasch French in front of them with deliberation and skill. My own match ended quickly, so I caught quite a bit of their game.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the game score because I had to go buy Gary some baby aspirin for chest pain. The older man’s health had been worsening throughout the game. His complexion was sickly and it was obvious he was in extreme discomfort. Despite our trying to reason with him he refused to concede.

“I’m playing some great chess,” he offered in rebuttal. This was true, but beside the point. Confronted with his own mortality he kept playing. Soon both players got into time pressure.

Gary lost the game. As time wore on his physical weakening took its toll on his mental ability. Fortunately, the aspirin did the trick, and Gary seemed to be in good spirits by the time he left. Disaster averted. The old man grumbled about the inconvenience of his physical health, upset about the loss.

What he’s going to remember is not his physical distress, his possibly life-threatening decision, but the game score. That’s what makes chess players want to devote their lives to moving wood around. The idea of building something, of a rarified experience. Maybe it’s the game’s fault. Having success in chess means full immersion. It’s no wonder that dedication sometimes becomes absurd. Of course, I haven’t half Gary’s skill.

We all make all our final stands somewhere. Perhaps Gary realizes that the time will come to leave this Earth, and his position will necessarily be losing. What’s he’ll leave is a thought record and the color he injects into it.




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