ARTICLE #21 [First published in October 1988 Chicago Point]

The Phoenix

It was the beginning of one of those weekends. While I was driving to the tournament in Michigan, my air conditioning decided to stop working. The temperature was 100 degrees and I could see heat waves rising off the asphalt. Up ahead lay a stretch of road construction that was bringing traffic to a near standstill. It was late and getting later as one repair zone followed another. as the road opened up, I decided to put a heavy foot on the gas, anxiously watching for the would-be bears.

Before I could get into the rhythm of the match, my opponent began firing out devastating numbers. I was put on the defensive and an uneasy feeling of helplessness engulfed me. My vehicle to win the tournament had stalled on his tracks. His first series of rolls blew out my tires. The second crippled my transmission, and the third hit my radiator causing me to overheat. I could feel the Midnight Express chugging closer and closer. It was echoing, “I gonna get chu! I gonna get chu!” as I desperately tried to move out of the way.

KABOOM. I was history. My whole match flew past me in a flash. Needing a drink and in search of quiet solitude, I went to the bar and sought out a dark corner to get over my early demise. There I ran into another unhappy victim who was attempting to comfort his own defeat. I gave him a tentative greeting and ordered my drink. After three or four painkillers, I felt I could crawl back into life. I asked him how he had done in his match. It was a stupid question that I wanted to take back, but it was what he needed to unburden his mental state. He burst like an overfilled dam, flooding his answer with the debris of unresolved injustices that plagued his cruel loss.

When he finished his catharsis, we started to talk about the players who were still alive in the tournament. They were difficult to relate to at first; maybe because of envy or because of our all-consuming self-pity. Whatever the case, he asked, “Why do a few players consistently outperform their peers?” It was a good question. Their cube and checker play didn’t seem any better than ours. And some of them were even thought to have serious faults that should be an impediment to winning. But time after time, these players would survive and usually place in the money.

You can’t easily see the reasons for their success unless you stand back and view their game in total. These performers seem to win because of all the things they do right and in spite of any errors ingrained in their game. Pursuing positive ends, they find ways to win versus looking for ways to avoid losing. Possessing a great amount of stamina, they can maintain a reasonable level of play throughout the tournament. They are the marathon players who are able to grind out the distances. While most sprinters make an impressive start, they’re usually not around at the finish. The most notable quality in their emotional toughness; they can withstand the effects of overwhelming swings that would destroy and average player’s concentration. Finally, the performers are highly opportunistic in exploiting a tense situation. While others debate the merits of a course of action, they swiftly seize the moment and unhesitatingly deliver the fatal blow.

Armed with he curiosity of newfound insight, I dragged myself from the quagmire of despair to face the challenges that await anyone who dares to repute the domination of defeat.

Fortune Cookie
The value of an achievement depends on the quality of effort.

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