Do you like Monopoly? It was one of my family’s favorites. As a kid, it took me a while to figure out a strategy that could help me win the game because so much of Monopoly was not a part of a child’s experience: Wisely buying property, targeting where to invest, paying Income Tax, and Going to Jail, Directly to Jail, no passing Go, no $200.
Jail? I guess I saw some on TV. But if you merely happened to land on the square that was jail…why then you were just visiting. Wow…why would anyone want to visit a jail? But next roll, you’d just move on. So, I quickly figured out visiting jail was greatly to be preferred to being sent there. When you had to go to jail, everyone else continued buying and passing Go and making money, while you just sat there hoping to roll doubles. Life simply passed you by, you no longer participated.
Then ironically, as I grew older and more sophisticated, I sometimes hoped to get the “Go to Jail” card or land on the square. This would be late in the game when I needed to get past my father’s monopoly of Park Place and Board Walk with his hotels and high rents.
My money running out, wanting to continue the game, I’d wish desperately that I could just sit in jail. Lay low, I thought, maybe your luck will change, maybe someone will land on Mediterranean Avenue and pay you enough to continue…at least for a few more rounds. Going to Jail actually looked like a way out. Maybe someone else will go bankrupt while I’m here, and even if I don’t win, I won’t lose either. Funny how life gets more complex as we grow older and “wiser,” yet hold on to our magical thinking.
I guess one way to look at this entry is to think about the lesson from this game and what it teaches about being poor, when you don’t own the richest properties, when someone else has a Monopoly of all the railroads, when you’re so broke you know you can’t win and just try any strategy not to lose altogether. Sure seems to mirror life.
Or let’s focus on the jail lesson and I’ll tell you about being a social worker when I did learn about jail…and visit there. I can assure you visiting as a professional was very different from what it was for those there visiting someone they loved. Jail in the real world may entail watching life pass you by, but it is nowhere near as benign as in Monopoly. What is the same, however, is a version of my desperate hope, and the magical thinking that maybe, please God maybe, when jail is left behind, things will somehow be different. Of course, I knew, the same poverty, the same streets, and the same dead ends were snares out there….waiting.
Both those lessons were learned in my career. But what has really caught my fancy today, on this Sunday when my husband has a vacation day, is an even bigger lesson. What captured me and started me thinking yesterday, and still today, was the aboriginal quote above. It made me think past my childhood and professional life experiences to life itself.
It seems to me that most of us don’t live as if we know we are all here just visiting, regardless of money or location. In this world, this job, this place, this family, there are only so many times past Go! We are just passing through. We don’t get to play this game forever. Yet, we act as if the present is permanent, even as we mark occasions, like birthdays and anniversaries, that show us it’s not.
Of course, we do know all this at some deep level, but on the surface where we live, we are so busy racing to get to Go and then pass it and round again, we rarely dive to that depth. I think that’s why we write songs that illustrate the concept that we blink and life is past.
And while it is important, as the quote says, to watch and learn about life by observation, in a time-limited experience we can’t always stay on the sidelines, as spectators rather than participants. We need to dive into life. Deep. We need to splash and laugh, and kick our feet. We need to play and love and toss children in the air. We need to immerse ourselves in the wonder around us. We need transcendent moments when we see the “world in a grain of sand and heaven in a flower.” (Blake) We need to love and merge our soul with others to learn and share the immortality in our mortal moments. We have to do more than just visit, we need to live and love even though we are just visiting.
And then, having fully lived, we can finally turn for home, move past the momentary for the eternal where a safe harbor awaits. But for me, until then, my goal is to remember life is only a visit. And just like a vacation when you explore new places and try to see every possible thing you can squeeze into your time away, I want to embrace every bit of life I can and share it with those I love.
Do not just pass Go. Do not just collect $200. Come, join me. Let’s dive in…deep…and make this the best visit anyone ever had.