“You taught me the courage of stars before you left.
How light carries on endlessly, even after death.”
Saturn – Sleeping At Last
We’ve been binging episodes of Friday Night Lights at my house. It’s an entertaining and addictive show that’s only nominally about football and much more about teen angst and the inevitable stress of growing up, and the disillusionment of being “grown up” and realizing the stress never leaves you. There’s a line repeated frequently throughout the show, usually barked at a high school footballer who’s preoccupied with a troubled relationship or too hungover from the previous night’s exploits to concentrate on the task at hand. “Get your head in the game!” the coach will scream. I think about those words a lot, how unhelpful they are, how ambiguous. Never have those words been uttered to a person who doesn’t already have his head squarely in some sort of game. What the coach should be saying is something like, “Get your head out of whatever game it’s in, and get it in my game.”
We spend nearly all our time engaged in some type of game, do we not? I know I do. I wake with the cacophony of all the stuff I need to do roaring in my head. Far too early and too often, I’m playing the phone game––the game of emails and texts and social media updates and What’s today? National Pasta Day? Well, at least I know what’s for dinner!
Then there is the work game. I play this one a lot. Even when I’m supposed to be playing other games, my mind and a significant amount of my energy are still focused on the work game. I tell myself it’s reasonable to do, because the work game is important, and it has many other important spinoff games—the be a responsible provider game, the stay productive game, and the fan-favorite—plan for the future game.
The past few days, I’ve endeavored to take some time away from the work game. I started with a trip to see Dave Matthews at the Gorge. That game was a fun one. Live shows are endlessly fascinating to me. For many folks, it is the best environment to drink and get high and behave in ways they’d never be allowed to when they’re playing the work or the family games. For others it’s a thing to do so they can tell their friends they did it, and if any friend should doubt whether they really did this thing, they’ll have plenty of photo evidence on their phones to prove it. Ten thousand pictures must have been taken at that show. Two of them were mine. I haven’t looked at the pics much since taking them. They seem so flat compared to the real thing.
There were moments, when I wasn’t busy taking pictures or thinking about how much I did or didn’t care for the opening act or wishing I’d brought a cushion to make my butt more comfortable, when the show stopped being just a game and became something greater. Dave Matthews is an incredible talent, no doubt, but that’s not what attracts me to shows like his. I go because I know there will be a moment, perhaps several moments, when a hole will be torn through the false reality I am so hopelessly stuck within, and I will see reality as it truly is, a reality devoid of games. If I tried to explain the phenomenon with words, it would be like scooping a bit of the ocean into a jar and calling it a wave. If you’ve ever been inexplicably moved by a piece of music or a work of art or by the kind act of a stranger, you know what I’m talking about. It needs no explanation because you know it when you see it. We know the real thing when we see it, yet we walk through life behaving as if the game is all there is.
Look at the world, at the people around you with clear eyes, and you may notice that you and everyone you see are lost in dreams. We go to the store and we are lost in the dream of whether or not people are wearing masks. We go on vacation, and we’re so obsessed with the dream of trying to cram every activity we can into the experience that we forget to experience anything. We see the news, and we’re lost in the dream of how everything seems so messed up––how every business is short-staffed, how the politicians seem to have lost their minds, and the government and big business are out to screw us, and the hospitals are overflowing, and these vaccines, what are we supposed to do about these damn vaccines!—and all the while, as we dream our little dreams, the planet we stand upon rockets through the heavens, and the sun rises, faithfully reminding us each day that we are alive, and by this we ought to be amazed.
Einstein posited that we can see reality in one of two ways: we can believe nothing is a miracle or everything is a miracle. I like to think I’m an “everything is a miracle” kind of person. But you wouldn’t know this about me when I’m complaining that I can’t replace my car’s windshield because Covid is causing a worldwide windshield shortage. You wouldn’t know it when I’m decrying the younger generation’s lack of work ethic. You wouldn’t know I’m a person enamored by miracles when I’m more fascinated by the new trailer for the upcoming Matrix movie (which is gonna be awesome, BTW) than I am by the bewildering fact that Life exists here on earth and, as far as we can tell, no place else.
So I have to shake things up sometimes in order to get my head out of the game. I have to go to a concert. I have to get out on a lake and saturate myself in enough beauty to wake myself up, and if that doesn’t work, I have to find a blustery day and paddle my board furiously against the wind until I am too exhausted to move and there is nothing left but the water rippling beneath me and the blood rushing in my ears and the quiet, quiet, quiet that manifests when the illusion fades into the background and Life takes center stage.
Maybe the idea of spending time on a lake exhausts you or grosses you out. Perhaps you can’t make it to a concert, or maybe it’s just not your thing. No doubt, you do have a thing, something that gets you. Whatever that thing is, I encourage you do it as often as you can. We need every tool possible to counteract these illusions, for the games we play are as enticing as they are pestilent. If you aren’t vigilant, you can easily be lured into believing the seminal issue in the history of time is figuring out which of your neighbors is letting their dog shit on your lawn. Or you may find yourself wondering what’s the point of living when your most recent Instagram post garnered a measly twelve Likes.
Take a look at the image below. It’s a picture of Times Square, exactly one hundred years ago. Every person in this photo is dead now. Aside from this, they are very much like you and me. They are rushing around, lost in their games, convinced that whatever it is they’re obsessing about is the most important issue in the world. And like you and me, they have it all wrong.