One hen, two ducks, three squawking geese. That’s how the memory game begins. It’s a simple, “repeat after me” from one to ten. I will often do it with groups as an icebreaker or an anxiety enhancer. I stole it from a Johnny Carson episode. Yes I am that old.
The game can be played in two different ways, eliciting two very different responses. In the first case, take for example the time I played it with a local high school assembly. The gymnasium was packed and I asked for a volunteer, someone who thought they had a good memory, someone who wanted to challenge me to a game. I told the volunteer (senior jock with attitude) that it was “you against me and I will beat you because I never lose”. I pointed out that it was a competition and instructed the audience not to help him in any way. Other teens soon started teasing, and the tension in the room started to rise. I think the kid made it to “four limerick oysters”.
Sometimes, however, I play the game with anxiety groups or when I am doing speaking gigs for tired executives. I will introduce the game but also mention that it’s perfectly fine if others help out because it doesn’t really matter, and no one ever gets to ten anyway. We are all in this together, after all. I remind the audience more than once that there is no pressure and I will say the statements along with them in case they get confused. Most groups give up at seven or eight. It’s fun and a good laugh.
Do you see the difference between the two games?
Most of us can do quite well when things are going our way, when we feel no pressure, when we feel supported. It’s another thing all-together to be at your best when you are not feeling well, or feel singled out, or are stressed or under pressure. Change just a few variables and most of us, myself included, will run into trouble. Do that public presentation with a head cold or a Fibromyalgia flare up and what was intended to be a great opportunity becomes a waking nightmare. Add emotional or relational pressures, insecurity or abuse and it becomes harder and harder to make good decisions.
Most of us live life with a limp. We have been wounded in ways we dare not describe and have developed coping skills that worked in crisis and fear. Some of us have felt the sting of trauma and abuse and feel like something inside of us has been broken, or killed, or maimed beyond repair. People don’t understand why we do some of the things we do but they have no idea what you have endured. It’s easy, therefore, to view the world as a hostile place and trust no one. Letting someone in just brings pain. We develop masks to hide our true feelings and emotions. It is probably fair to say that we are not necessarily playing at the top of our game. I often comment that most of us, by the time we are middle-aged, have seen our fair share of trauma. There are few optimists in their forties.
Growing up many of us felt belittled or abused. We still struggle to trust anyone or let anyone in. When I am confronted I know it is difficult to stay objective – I have a little boy inside of me that is easily wounded and wants to fight back or run away or make excuses. I have spent a lifetime trying to come to terms with that little guy but it’s an ongoing issue in most of us. We walk with a limp – the constant nagging understanding of our weakness and the temptation to treat all of life with distrust. It is easy to become bitter. It is difficult to let go of the past and the dysfunctional coping methods we once used so effectively. It is hard to move on when we have to drag one leg.
Robert Frost famously penned, “Two roads diverged in a wood”, a poem (The Road Less Traveled) many of us have committed to memory. We hear it at conferences and in platitudes about choosing a life that makes a difference, about not selling out. I was reminded today that the real journey of life is not the physical or economic one, but an emotional and spiritual one. We all have choices to make, choices that will profoundly affect our lives and the lives of those we love.
A limp is not an excuse to live a bitter life.
I can still choose, in spite of my situations, my past, and my problems to endeavor to find hope and help.
I have come to realize it is a great deal easier to grow old and ugly than it is to choose wholeness.
In fact, its way easier.
“People can be more forgiving than you imagine. But you have to forgive yourself. Let go of what’s bitter and move on.” Bill Cosby
- Depression: How To Feel Like A Loser (scott-williams.ca)
- You don’t need to be a soldier to suffer from the dark, heavy weight of PTSD (thesun.co.uk)
- When Intuition Is A Curse (poetryfrommymind.wordpress.com)
- Living My Life To Impress A Five Year Old (scott-williams.ca)
- Why Most Radical Change Is Bogus (scott-williams.ca)