Once upon a time…
The view through the window wall at the study’s rear is completely surreal, almost suffocating. There are two well-educated men in the room and neither can bear to look through the flaring glass at the apocalyptic scene for more than a second at a time. Similarly, they cannot bear to meet each other’s gaze. Rather, their eyes tend towards the intricately patterned maroon carpet beneath their feet.
The windowpane flashes overwhelming white for an instant. Then it fades once more into an orange haze and the old house groans. Ice cubes rattle inside a pair of crystalline glasses flanking an empty bottle of whiskey on the desk. The Cubans have yet to be sparked, but the aroma of smoke hangs in the air.
“There’s something I want to say to you, son, but I can’t seem to find the words.”
“I’m sure you’ll find them. There’s still time.”
“I’m afraid there isn’t really.”
“Survival seems slim. Don’t you think we ought to hold out hope?”
“Not according to any astrophysicist worth his salt.”
“Surely things may have changed since Friday’s forecast?”
“Perhaps. The fact that there hasn’t been a forecast since Friday is not a good omen.”
“How about a final game of chess?”
“Yes – alright. Let’s do it”
Father and son approach a small table topped with a slick lacquered chessboard. They shift the uncomfortably fashionable chairs at ninety degrees, setting the game parallel to the window to ensure neither player’s focus will be too disrupted by the spectacle outside. As they place fine pieces of ebony and ivory in their proper squares, Junior is reminded of his early Chess lessons with his father.
This is first and foremost a test of wit.
Junior learned that chess is a beautiful and historic game, defined by mounting tension, rational response, and mutually assured destruction. In a game between masters, each move logically preempts not the very next move, but a long series of expected responses. How, then, is there such variation in the ultimate arrangement of the board? It has been argued that the unique features of a given match often result from a complex coalescence of player psychology.
Look sharp. Yield the strategy; yield the game.
Junior initiates the first move, advancing his ivory king pawn two squares. Senior develops an ebony knight, threatening the advanced pawn. They move instinctively, automatically. Throats clear, pieces clack on the board, and eyes dart through potential lines of attack. The game clock is set, however, its comforting tick can no longer be heard over the howling Hellscape outside. Either way, time is running out.
Openings are small talk; foregone conclusions. Prepare your attack in silence.
Junior eyes a strong diagonal. “I know you usually like it quiet, but uh, circumstances being what they are, should we talk?”
“As you said, this may be our last opportunity.”
“Well, that’s true enough. What I mean is, is there something specific you want to talk about?”
“I want to talk about Mother.”
“In that case, I think we’d better just play.”
“Why won’t you talk about her?”
“If it’s all the same to you, I’d rather not spend my last moments in misery.”
“I don’t mean right now, I mean ever.”
Junior’s heart sinks, and his focus returns to the game. His light square bishop is hanging. In an average game, this is a small loss, but against his father, such imperfections are unacceptable. As the bishop is taken, there are beads of sweat forming on Junior’s brow and upper lip – obvious signs of weakness. He says a little prayer, hoping that his father won’t notice.
A decent player can survive. A good one can put together an attack.
But a great player knows when to back off.
They are trading pieces now, ruthlessly clearing the board of cohesive formations until only a few pieces remain. As Senior gains the advantage, Junior regroups in his kingside corner.
“Did you play chess with your father?”
“No, of course not. Empire to build, and all that.” Senior lends a subtle tilt of the head toward the framed painting opposite the window. “On my ninth birthday, father sat me down and taught me the rules – the same ones I taught to you. He said to me that when you properly learn chess, you learn to make it in this world. After that, he left me to learn the game on my own, or play it with your aunts.”
“What kind of lesson is that?”
“What do you mean?”
“Chess is a game about strategy. It’s beautiful and historic-”
“Please. It’s nothing more and nothing less than one of the many pastimes men have invented so that they never have to engage in earnest conversation with each other.”
While each of Junior’s assertive moves crack sharp against the surface of the board, Senior’s slide. The older man moves with strong confidence, belonging only to the incredibly wise or the incredibly foolish.
“I’d have thought you’d want to be able to speak openly and honestly with any man.”
“You never met my father.”
“I wonder if I’ve ever really met mine,” Junior says. “I will thank you, though, for making time to play chess with me every now and again. No matter how frustrated I was with you, please know that I always looked forward to it.”
Bend, but don’t break.
The room is flooded with an incessant white light as the tremors become disruptive. Books wiggle out of place on the shelves and the whiskey bottle rolls off of the desk to shatter across the rug.
The game devolves into an endless chase. Two opposing kings and two opposing knights moving from corner to corner, narrowly escaping clever traps. It occurs to both players that this could conceivably go on forever, but they continue on making moves. Suddenly, as the trembling grows stronger, the painting of Senior’s father swings free of its hooks and clangs out of sight behind the cabinet below. This snaps the men out of their trance.
“I offer a draw,” says Junior, rising from the table and extending a sweaty palm.
Senior stands to meet his son’s hand. They shake for what feels like an eternity until finally, their moistening eyes meet.
Senior takes a measured breath. “What a cruel trick it was that she left you those baby blues.”
Junior swallows hard as his throat closes over. He yanks his father toward him and they share a hug – a gesture not even thought of since early childhood when Junior’s mother was around as the go-between. If tears fall, they immediately evaporate, disappearing into the cascade of sweat brought on by the light.
“I wish I could remember her, Dad. I’m sure she was lovely.”
“I’ve found the words. Your mother – she whispers them to me even now.”
“I love you.”
The game clock would expire about now, but its internal mechanisms have melted. A bookshelf tips over onto the chess table, scattering the pieces over the floor. Pained are the wails of the old house. The study’s rear window splinters, sending a blinding whirl of shards into the room, slicing everything inside to ribbons and scorching whatever remains.
Father and son feel no pain – only the smooth rise and fall of each other’s cherished last breaths.
“Truth has a power only the courageous can handle.”
Moral of the Story:
At some point in your life, you made the decision that it was no longer safe to speak your truth. In your early years, speaking up led to a scolding from your parents, or worse. Their censure caused pain, so you developed a belief in you that speaking up would create even more pain. This belief compelled you to withhold and question your own voice from that point on. Withdrawing serves to protect ourselves from being hurt. So long as we play by the house rules, and do not rock the boat with “endless” questions, “irrational” imaginations, and “childish antics”, then we are safe. This childhood belief crystalises into an attitude and behavioural patterns that become ingrained into our adult psyche, which permeates every decision in our lives.
Pain and discomfort in the form of stress, overwhelm, anger and resentment are signals that you are living out of integrity. For instance, you may feel resentful for being the go-to person again; for being the one who takes on the duties that others are quite capable of doing. Stress or overwhelm can be a sign that you are not saying “No”; that you are not asking for what you need, such as help with sharing responsibilities, or leaving work on time. Anger is often a sign that you are not listening to your intuition. You may agree to do something or take on someone else’s burden, but inside you feel a surge of anger that wants to scream “No!” Anger is simply your body’s response to you denying your own truth.
Your Body Knows. Truth is found in feelings. Listen when your body speaks. Instead of judging your somatic response as bad or wrong, simply see it as information serving your wellbeing. Is it guiding you away from staying late at work, chairing a board, or being there for your inconsolable friend…again! Finding the courage to speak your truth will set you free. Every time you authentically and courageously speak up, you love yourself a little bit more. You demonstrate your self-worth and you reclaim your right to be heard, valued, and respected. Being seen and heard is your inherent birthright. You are not meant to live within the constraints of a mental cave. You are meant to be wild, free, and expressive just as children are. This free spirit – this inner child – still lives inside you; it never left. It wants to come out and play. Open the gate with the power and tone of your voice. Allow yourself to be seen and heard once again.
“Living with integrity means: Not settling for less than what you know you deserve in your relationships. Asking for what you want and need from others. Speaking your truth, even though it might create conflict or tension. Behaving in ways that are in harmony with your personal values. Making choices based on what you believe, and not what others believe.”
— Barbara De Angelis
Affirmation: It is safe for me to speak my truth.
I am able to calmly and effectively speak my truth. I live an honest, authentic, wholehearted life. My voice matters and my words are powerful. I express myself clearly and openly. I speak with courage, compassion, and love. I am a clear and effective communicator. I find creative ways to communicate my self-expression. When I speak, others listen. I add value to every conversation I participate in. My insight is welcome, needed, and valuable. I remain true to myself in all that I say and do. I choose authenticity over perfection. I stand up for others who have not yet found their voice. When I speak and live my truth, my immune system benefits. I enjoy open and honest communication in my relationships. I courageously remove my mask and allow my true self to be seen. I choose to be honest and vulnerable, even when I’m afraid. When I courageously speak my truth, I give others the confidence to speak theirs as well.
“It only takes one voice, at the right pitch, to start an avalanche.”