November 28, 2010

Children and Chessboards

Last night we watched Searching for Bobby Fischer, the old, based-on-a-true-story movie about a chess prodigy whose parents struggle to support his genius while cultivating his humanity. I recommend it.

Our kids also liked it. I suppose any movie that portrays a child sympathetically and shows a father embarrassing himself time and again has an undeniable appeal, but I didn't expect Jessica to spring out of bed at 6:00 this morning and challenge me to a game of chess. The movie inspired an appetite for the game. All those close-ups of queens and knights slamming around to kettle-drum sound effects must have given chess a new allure.

Our kids are true beginners, only just knowing the rules. Last summer we befriended a serious chess player who taught them the basics. With infinite patience he kept maneuvering his pieces into peril. Nine out of ten times my kids would overlook their opportunities, but when they saw a chance, they beamed with triumph at having put one past him. As they captured, he would quietly shake his head in mock self-disgust.

He made an observation that stuck with me: "I like chess because I can't remember so well anymore. Playing cards you have to remember what's been played or what's bid or which card is wild this hand. But with chess, everything is right in front of you."

It wasn't so long ago that our children lived only in the present. And the immediacy of their lives still surprises me. How lightly they move past an argument! They can trade hateful words with each other, forgive and forget, and start playing anew--all while my pulse is still racing.

But gradually they're developing a more adult sense of time. They draw on a history of memories and make plans. After my son and I finished a Starcraft battle last weekend, he recalled in eager detail how his forces waxed and waned as our various stratagems played out.

I wonder if the immediacy of a game like chess holds a special appeal for the little child still in them. So much of childhood is waking up a new person each day, able at last to reach the counter-top or read the grandfather clock or recognize your name written out. Each morning you're effectively someone else.

My daughter has to live in the present. Her mind grows so fast that its memories belong to a person who no longer is.

For me it's the past that is inescapable. I'm confident I can speak in public because I've done so before, but afraid to leave my job because I remember too clearly my angst at being without a paycheck.

I'm like cards. They're like chessboards.

Their history brought them where they are, but it shakes off easily. They pursue today's goals with fresh ardor, yesterday's despairs and dreams so irrelevant that their old gravity is already forgotten.

November 18, 2010

Risks of Teaching the Old Testament

Numbers 14:27

How long will this wicked community grumble against me? I have heard the complaints of these grumbling Israelites.
Camille was speaking to Jessica about what motivated the September 11 terrorists:

"There were a lot of reasons. They don't like America. They're mad that we support Israel...."

"I wouldn't support Israel."

I cringe. Are we raising an anti-Semite?

"Why not?" I ask.

"They're always grumbling and complaining."