In the Cards

I may be in need of a new obsession. Facebook and Pinterest have become a little boring lately, and with a short lunch half-hour and not enough time to leave my office sometimes it comes down to one thing: solitaire. Playing cards on my screen with nothing but the finest microwaved leftovers for lunch is a cheap and easy way to waste thirty minutes. But here’s a question for you: why does computer solitaire keep score? It’s a game that pits you against the cards. Most often the cards win. But why do we need to keep score? Is it important that I was able to rack up 230 random points before it was flaunted in my face that I lost?

I am a naturally competitive person. I can’t help myself most of the time and simply must compete. So when it’s me against the cards you can bet that I am always seeking ways to maneuver the cards to my advantage. But even with this competitive streak I don’t need to know by how much I have lost or won. I simply need (want) to win. There are certainly far more important things in the world: clean water, breathable air, people learning to get along with one another, and whether or not my children are healthy and happy. Those are important. Whether I win a stupid computer card game should not matter. But in some small corner of my psyche it still does. It’s pitiful, right?

I learned to play solitaire as a child while sitting at my grandmother’s kitchen table. My aunt, who was one of the most glamorous women I ever knew, would wash and set her hair and then sit under a hair dryer – one of those behemoth contraptions that looked like the head of a space suit was enclosing your skull. The noise from those hair dryers can be enough to render a person temporarily deaf. But my aunt would post that dryer on a makeshift counter top nearby and play solitaire at the kitchen table, waiting for the heat combined with the curlers in her hair to do their job. Adoring my aunt as I did, I would watch in awe, wondering what she was doing with those playing cards. So when the dryer went off, my questions flowed: What are you doing? How do you play? Why can only the red cards go on the black cards? My aunt was a patient woman and luckily for her nieces and nephew she adored us as much as we did her. So she taught me to play solitaire.

solitaireBeing a loner for much of my life, I can appreciate a game that pits just you against the cards. My introverted nature loves that there is no human interaction during these games, just the deck. As in all card games you learn one of life’s greatest lessons: you must play the hand you’re dealt. From the time my aunt taught me to play it has been a constant reminder that we play the hand we’re dealt, no matter the game. Sometimes we win and sometimes we lose. I prefer to win, but cheating is not an option and to win by cheating would never carry the same level of fulfillment anyway. That’s actually one great thing about computer solitaire: it literally will not allow you to bend the rules. It’s a cheat-free zone. I can tell you honestly, though, that truly competitive people understand intrinsically how important it is to win fair and square and that a win is only as satisfying as the legitimate steps you took to get there.

So I play, now on my screen with the clicks of a mouse instead of with a deck of cards at the table. But each time I choose to play solitaire a little voice in my head reminds me that this is a life lesson in microcosm and that it doesn’t matter how smart we are or how much money we have or how our hair looks on any given day (old-fashioned dryer or not) or how many people like or dislike us. What really makes a difference is how we play the hand we’re dealt. We can play a clean game and make the smartest moves and we may still not get the win, but we know that we have played by the rules and that’s what reinforces a civilized society and holds up our self-respect. I simply cannot understand those who see life differently. Now that I think of it, maybe winning a few points even during a losing hand is significant since it strengthens the incredibly important concept that we have played a clean game.

If you feel this narrative has perhaps too subtly strayed towards the thin line of addressing the current political and sociological climate you may be right. But there are a few things I know for sure in life and will carry with me until my last breath:  how you play the game is more important than whether you win or lose, cheaters and liars can never really win, and my beloved late aunt taught me some important lessons in life with a simple deck of cards.

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