I believe in the power of games. During our honeymoon to Maui a couple of years ago, my new husband and I bought a very kitschy deck of Hawaiian cards and, upon opening the deck, realized that neither of us could remember how to play a single game. We laughed at ourselves on the drive to Borders to buy a how-to book, remarking that at least we could rest assured that our new spouse wasn’t a problem gambler.
Gin rummy became a reliable pastime during those relaxing two weeks. As our money quickly dwindled out, we passed up dining at fancy restaurants for eating cheap tacos on the deck of our hotel, where we could play endless rounds of cards while trading insincere insults on the other person’s moves. I remember thinking, as we came back to our room with yet another bag of steaming Taco Bell and our well-used card deck awaiting, “It just doesn’t get any better than this!” Granted, we were in Hawaii, which certainly helped, but taking time away from everyday life to just play a game felt freeing.
Simply watching adults play games is entertaining. Small-talk makes a beeline for the door as screeches, yells, and laughter burst forth in an obnoxious tumble. Big and small life problems are forgotten. Surprising personalities emerge as well. A popular game at my grandparents’ house was Spoons, a card game that could involve up to thirty-plus people and which drew some of the loudest belly laughs from the seemingly most conservative of relatives.
Within two weeks of returning from our honeymoon, my husband and I were met with many grave personal losses. While our marriage survived and, in fact, thrived in the face of adversity, our lives became more serious and games took a backseat to more pressing issues and to withstanding waves of grief for those we had lost.
One day I was fishing for something in a drawer and came across our card deck with the smiling hula dancer. On a whim I asked my husband, “How about a game of … What was that game we used to play in Hawaii?” Luckily, Card Games for Dummies was still on our bookshelf, and we proceeded to relearn the rules of gin rummy. That childish giddiness, along with my annoyingly over-competitive spirit, returned in an instant as though it had never left. My ribs hurt from laughing. And I realized that I believed strongly in the power of games to heal large and small wounds. Playing games doesn’t erase the pain of my losses or even everyday stresses, but it eclipses them for while and gives me a much-needed time-out to smile. This simple card game returned me to my grandparents’ living room, hearing the sounds of uncles mock-fighting over the last spoon on the table. And back to our hotel deck overlooking the beach, with a spread of fast food and a setting orange sun.
And suddenly I knew we were going to be okay.
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