“You know what you’ve got to do?” she said, pausing for dramatic effects. “Stand tall!!!” My friend was quoting some advice her mother had given her which had baffled and infuriated her to no end. For a while, it became a one line “joke” between us, utilized whenever we had little advice to offer and hoped a smile or laugh could be sufficient support. By the time she became one of the many friends who had disappeared into motherhood, virtually never to be heard from again, I was fairly sure I knew what it meant to stand tall… and more uncertain than ever that I had the self-confidence to do it. I knew then that I was playing the underdog hand in life, but I wasn’t sure how to do it successfully.
Like a child, I wanted “fun and games” to mean that everyone could be a winner. I had already begun to play poker at the casinos and knew that the phrase involved a lot of cut throat maneuvers on the felt, but I wanted to believe that life was different. I knew that poker players do not chop the pot (tie) frequently, but thought friends, family, and lovers should find a way to make life work out that way. I thought compromise was best when things were 50/50 all the time. I couldn’t see that, when playing the cards as they’re dealt, you’re lucky if a hundred hands averaged together work out so evenly.
Much more recently, one of my new regular customers was adding a generous tip on his credit card slip as I watched (per his request) and said, “Because you’re the best.” Intending to sound modest, I replied, “Well… I try.” He was extremely bothered by my response and scolded me in a way which (I told him) would have made Yoda proud. Neither of us quoted it correctly that day, but the message was clear: “Do or do not. There is no try.”
A few days later, I was at the doctor for my annual physical exam when I began to apply Yoda’s message to the poker game of life. It was the second time I measured in at a full 5’9” (one-half inch taller) and the first time ever that a medical professional told me my weight (145 lbs.) was absolutely perfect for my height. The night before that, a friend who is also a new mother had driven hundreds of miles to surprise “Aunt Rachel” with a visit from her seven-week-old “niece”. The day before my customer reminded me, “There is no try,” another friend and her two-year-old Prince Charming had taken me to the park to see the turtles… and then to retrieve my car from where I’d parked it the night before to go out drinking. I hadn’t done much beyond eating gradually smaller, healthier portions to go from borderline obese to perfectly healthy, nor had I done anything but be myself to retain the love of these two girlfriends and gain a relationship with their children. Perhaps, as adults, we are both more inclined to “do” than to just “try”.
Perhaps I’ve finally grown up and figured out how to play a friendly poker game in life. Perhaps my current friends are better at explaining why they’re making the moves they do so that I can respond with kindness (and vice versa). Perhaps many friends have disappeared into motherhood… but perhaps they aren’t lost forever. As long as we are both on this planet, we have a choice whether or not our game is through. A new hand is dealt every day. We can either lay our cards on the table and place our bets or sit around thinking about the cards we hold as the moments pass us by. Do or try. Bet or fold. Play or don’t play. The only real way to meet in the middle is to attempt to balance the wins and losses each party endures… and do everything you can to help keep your “opponent” standing tall when you are the one holding the cards that have the power to knock them down.