Friday, June 30, 2006

The Hands We're Dealt

When my father was at home, working on a big project with an imminent deadline, he would occasionally stop to relieve his stress and freshen his mind with a game or two of computer solitaire. Every now and then, I would catch a glimpse over his shoulder and I began to notice a pattern. If the hand that the computer dealt was particularly lop-sided -- three of a kind, too much of one color, too many high value or face cards -- he would simply click the "New Game" button and start with a fresh deal. I asked him once why he did this.

"Because that kind of game is impossible to beat," came his reply. "What's the point of even starting it if you're probably going to lose?"

But that simply wasn't true, and I knew it. In my illustrious solitaire career, I have won many games that seemed to start as lost causes. Three of a kind would pop up, and I'd have to be really careful as to how I played them and what I sent to the suit stacks. The thing about solitaire is that winning is more about dealing with what you don't know than what you do. The up-facing cards are right there; you can see where you stand with them. They weren't going to get any better or worse than they already had. But the unrevealed cards on the board and in the draw stack -- those were the ones you had to count on. They had to arrive in a certain order, have a certain number, be a certain color, and be the right value.

A lot of times, when you got a bad deal on the first hand, you lost. But sometimes, even if the first hand gave you what seem like insurmountable obstacles, you managed, through fate and perseverance to beat it anyway. Those were moments when you figured you'd lose, but you played the hand because that was what was in front of you, and you had to play it -- probably lose it -- then move on to the next.

I was at his computer once, using one of his programs, when I decided to take my own "mental health break." As I was playing, it was my father's turn to watch over my shoulder as three 7s dealt out. It drove him nuts that I wouldn't just hit "New Game" when the situation looked hopeless. I kept playing as long as there was a move. Click, move, click, click, move, move, click, move. Until at last, I had put the last King into the last suit stack. The little suit stacks went wild, and the cards danced triumphantly across the computer screen. I had won. I had conquered impossible odds. I had snatched victory from the jaws of… well, you get the idea.

All of which is a long, roundabout way of saying that you have two different people, with two wildly different ideas of how to approach a seemingly "no win" situation. One bumps up against an obstacle, throws up his hands and hits "New Game". The other looks at the situation, assesses it and plays the cards that are dealt.

Because in Life, there is no "New Game." In Life, you get what you get, and you can either sit in the chair and mope about it, or you can play the cards that are dealt you to the best of your ability, until you have no more moves left. Then and only then is the game over.

I've told this story for years now. It used to be a little story I told about my father's peculiar solitaire habits. But more and more lately, it seems that solitaire is really beside the point.