Monday, April 4, 2011

Chess, Tsunamis, and the Fall of the Queen

I teach my 6-year-old son never to put his queen in danger. It doesn't matter if you cover her with another piece or not, I tell him, I would send any of my pieces to their death in order to kill your queen. Except my queen. The other queen-rule I tell him is this: if you threaten my queen and I have no chance to escape or save her in any way, I will take your most valuable piece before you kill me. It still shocks him when he corners me with his queen, his queen being covered, and I strike at him, killing his queen first, knowing he will take my queen in the next move. He always feels like there is something unfair in it, “but I had my queen protected!” he cries.

My 10-year-old daughter already has these queen-rules internalized. She now beats me almost every day. She knows: if you have the queen, you have the game.

I stood on the rocks near Cap Rhir in Morocco and put my hood up as rain drops again started to fall. My husband and kids went back to sit in the car. I stood looking out at the ocean, thinking about chess. Thinking about the queen. Two days before, we had sat with hair and shoes caked with dessert dust in a café in Agdz, watching the arabic news of the tsunami which had just hit Japan, understanding no word but gleaning the extent of the catastrophe from the repeating film footage. Now on the rocks, the rain pattering upon me with regularity, I watched the waves as they crashed at my feet. The rain and the spray were quickly drenching me. I saw the fish that were left in the ocean swimming amidst the plastic bags and wayward sandals. And I saw a battle scene, the queen poised at the edge of the cliff. The rain came down so hard that visibility was reduced. There was a spray of rain and mud and sweat and blood. In combat she slipped and fell over the cliff. As she fell, she grew, she grew to the size of a mountain. And the cliff rose to heights of eternity, the ocean below being sucked out to one huge tsunami on the horizon. And the queen grasped at the cliff, at the mud, at the blood. Instead of clumps of grass and roots and branches and twigs, she grasped at lions and elephants and rivers and rainbows. Clumps of cities and slums ripped away in her clutch. Icebergs and glaciers slit her skin but melted, giving her no grip. They all pulled away from the cliff and the queen threw them down into the unimaginable depths in her frenzy. Humanity, nay, the entire world as we know it was being pulled over the cliff, like a tablecloth being pulled from a table. And the queen and everything we knew fell into the abyss and was smashed to nothingness from the tsunami.

The waves crashed around me and the torrential rain filled my ears. I wished the waves were just a bit higher. I wished they would rip my body away, carry my sins of existence back out to the ocean. I wished the fish could eat my eyes, that my body could be ripped apart by sharks. I wished I could give something back.

But I teach my children how to win. How to win a game of no consequence. I teach them what I was taught, what we are all taught, what society teaches us: to do whatever you have to do to win and if there is a threat of loosing to take out all that you can on your way out. Never fall empty handed over the cliff.

I turned away from the ocean. The fish would have to wait for their meal until another day, if there were any fish left when I chose to throw my body empty handed from the cliff. And I walked back to the car, to my children, to society, and to this game of no consequence that we play to the death.

1 comment:

  1. Why are so many games zero-sum games? I guess they're more exciting or dramatic. In nature, zero-sum games at the local level are always in the context of a wider interdependency.

    I've read that the winner-take-all game of Monopoly was originally intended to show how the exclusive control and exploitation of land led to inefficient results. It became, however, a lesson in social Darwinism, teaching the young, not that private ownership of common land doesn't work, but how the world supposedly SHOULD work.