Life and Checkers

I’ve been taking care of my grandfather lately.

He suffered a massive stroke in June that resulted in impaired judgment, short term memory loss, etc. Overall, he’s fine–he just can’t drive, can’t seem to remember what day it is, and isn’t too concerned about doing any of the therapies doctors have suggested… because he doesn’t remember he had a stroke, even when we continually remind him.

So I’ve been, on my days off, taking him on errands, talking with him, and playing games to stimulate mental activity (since his favorite past time is to watch game shows and Canadian soap operas, a rather detrimental pastime to someone trying to regain brain function).

One such game is checkers.

My grandfather (who we call “Babbo”–Italian for father) routinely played checkers when he was a Carabinieri in Italy. It is a game that, immediately after his stroke, he could lose three games of within an hour, but still knew all the rules and intricacies.

Now, we sometimes spend almost two hours on one game; improvement, which is great.

Sometimes, though, when he’s in a more somber mood, my grandfather quickly gives up the moment I have him cornered, or when I do a double jump he didn’t anticipate.

I always chastise him.

“Babbo! You still had like eight pieces!”

“No, no,” he always says, “there is nothing I can do.”

This has happened a few times.

Yesterday, during one of our two or three games (each lasting quite awhile), he cornered me. I realized that, quickly, the game would end in my loss with whatever move I made.

We sat, as we do, silently staring at the board with our fists leaving red welts on our cheeks.

Rather than thinking, I just made a move I normally wouldn’t. I simply moved a piece and shrugged.

It wasn’t the one my Babbo anticipated, and resulted in him claiming only one of my pieces… rather the two he would have if I had made any other move.

I hadn’t even noticed its possibility. I had considered throwing the game like my Babbo often does with a, “There is nothing I can do.”

Thirty minutes later, I won the game after my Babbo, with two pieces left, said, “You’ve got me trapped. There is nothing I can do.”

I had thought for sure the game was over. Like my Babbo has done prematurely, I thought that forfeiting would save us time to get to the next game because there was nothing I could do.

Now, the moral of this story isn’t, “Learn to take advantage in checkers with old men who have suffered strokes” or “beat elderly men into submission with your board game prowess.”

I suppose it’s more along the lines of: sometimes, over-thinking can be a detriment.

My Babbo spends close to twenty minutes studying the board, imagining all sorts of different moves, before finally saying, “That’s it” and taking his pieces off the board.

I spent close to that amount of time doing the same thing, considered “pulling a Babbo” and quitting, but decided to just haphazardly move a piece… and ended up winning the game within a half hour.

I am often an over-thinker–there is a reason I write long-winded blogs, and end up formulating three or four different posts once I start (because writing leads me to over-think, which leads me to think of three or four new ideas). Hell, I just spent a full minute and a half debating on whether or not to add the hyphen to “over-thinker.”

Over-thinking can choke you up, though. It can lead to a thirty minute pause in a checkers game where all you can see is failure.

Sometimes you need to take a break from thinking and just move the piece you aren’t to keen on… and you might end up with a surprise victory. Maybe even a faster victory than you could have ever anticipated, because things can fall into place.

Too cheesy and cliche?

Want to say that to my face… over a game of checkers?

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