The Unpredictable Game of Life

Photo by George Becker on

Life can feel unexciting at times as our days become a never ending repetition of themselves. We may consider the sameness of our routines to be boring, perhaps even dreary, but the unpredictability of life inevitably catches up with us in one way or another. The unexpected can be exciting, make us happy, or it can rock our world, leaving us groping for the everyday schedules that once made us complain. In truth our journeys through the cycles of the earth are a complex mixture of calm and anxiety brought on by forces that we can neither predict nor control.

I’ve learned to greet the morning with gratitude for simply waking up one more time. As each hour passes during a typical day I am thankful if no emergency arises. I no longer crave excitement like I once did. Calmness is my ally, sameness makes me smile. Experience has taught me to be prepared for anything, even as I know that sometimes the unimaginable will leave me quaking, unsteady in my resolve. Adjusting to new ways, to loss of certainty is always a massive challenge. 

There is only so much that we might generally predict. We know that there will be seasons in our lives but we can never be sure of how they may ultimately affect us. We’ve learned how to reasonably predict the weather but not to pinpoint who will be most impacted by it. We set up our calendars knowing that everything on them is subject to change given unexpected circumstances. We have control of our lives but only in how we choose to react to the events that unfold beyond that control. 

Our shared human experiences have the power to bring us together in support and compassion, but that does not always happen. Each of us responds differently to challenges and sometimes we cannot even predict our own behavior in difficult times, much less the actions of others. In many ways life is a puzzle, a difficult maze, a game that we will sometimes navigate with ease and other moments with a feeling of being totally lost. 

It’s easy to watch others struggling and believe that we might do better in the same situation, but we don’t really know if that is true until we experience our own crises. As humans we would be wise to pontificate less and attempt to understand more. But for the grace of God, as my mother often said, we might collapse under the pressures that some of our fellow humans must endure. It’s easy to condemn the person who attempts to illegally enter our country, but how often have we taken the time to actually speak to such an individual? Have we truly listened to their reasons for taking such great risks? Do we even try to visualize what we may be willing to do given the same circumstances?

For some reason people often open their hearts to me. I learn from them that there are times when life becomes so unbearable that they must take extraordinary steps to ease their pain. A father may steal from a store to feed his children. A mother may subject herself to indignities to keep her family together. A family may find themselves living in a car behind a funeral home that allows them to use the restroom facilities before going to bed at night on seats and floorboards padded with blankets. A son may lose his life in violence for no reason at all. A nation may be invaded at the whim of a madman. 

How would each of us react in such situations? We think we know, but desperation has a way of channeling our behaviors in very unpredictable directions. I was quiet and shy until my mother required my care when I was not quite yet an adult. I whined and cried and wailed at the heavens for a time, but eventually realized that either I would accept my new role or watch my entire family suffer. I had to push myself to become an aggressive advocate for my mother and for my younger brothers. It was uncomfortable, an ill fit with my natural temperament and I often dreamed of simply running away. Instead I pushed myself to become a different person than I had expected to be. Thankfully it made me a better person than I might have been. 

The unpredictable is a double edged sword. It can be fun and exciting or it can attempt to crush us entirely. We can never really know how we will do until such moments taunt us to demonstrate who we are. In the back of our minds we know that there may one day be a time when the pressure is too much and we will break into a thousand pieces. We would do well to be understanding when we see someone who has shattered under life’s pressure rather than judging them harshly or thinking them weak.

I sit in my safe little home each morning tapping my fingers on the keys that string letters together to make words that express my feelings. Most days I have a fairly good idea of where the hours will lead me, but I also know how unpredictable even the most serene beginning of my routine might be. I hope and pray that all will go well and that I will have whatever strength I need to deal with surprises. I can’t really predict how things will progress or how I will be affected by them. All I can do is take one minute at a time and try to be grateful for the quiet and the calm. The unpredictable game of life will most certainly challenge me just when I least expect.


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