Friday, January 28, 2011

Battle Pong

In the wee hours of this morning, I was awake and thinking about ping pong.

Oh, it didn't have to be ping pong. It could have been foosball, air hockey, Mario Kart. Any man vs. man battle would do, but for it me - it was ping pong.

It is one of those games that's hard to walk away from. You play, and you're getting into it. You exchange a few light-hearted jabs with your opponent and at times, take the whole thing with a deathly seriousness that would seem silly if you could see clearly through your own sweat. You even laugh at the fact that you're sweating during ping pong.

You stay at the table for hours, knowing full well the circumstances. You haven't eaten. You have other things to do. You are tired. You are thirsty. And despite your thirst, you have to pee. But something keeps you there, anyway. Something keeps you playing.

What is it that keeps us from walking away? Oh, we try sometimes but the sound of our opponent bouncing that ball behind us, ready to serve another point, sends us diving back toward the table only hoping to grab out paddle in time (or as has been more common, me deciding to be done and hearing one of my brothers rev the engines on Mario Kart and hoping I can grab the controller quickly enough to beat the countdown clock). It doesn't matter that the score is decidedly in our favor, that it is a million to four. When that point is served, something sends us running back to answer.

What keeps us from walking away? What if we just...left? Turned our backs and walked out.

Our opponent would taunt us, his voice getting louder and louder. What's the matter? he'd ask. Did I wear you out? Are you afraid of losing? You think you're too GOOD for this? And the answer to all of those is that nothing's the matter, we are not worn out, we do not fear losing, and yes, we ARE too good to continue playing a game where the score is already settled. For many of us, the taunts are enough. He convinces us we still have something to prove, so we go diving back forsaking all else to keep proving ourselves, to keep racking up points.

Useless, meaningless points that even our opponent isn't paying attention to. Only we keep counting; only we think they mean something.

For those of us who finally know and refuse to go back, his taunts grow louder and demand an answer. With a simple turn, perhaps, we tell him it's over. We have won, and we have better things to do. Where are we going? he asks. Anywhere but here.

Anywhere but here.

Then, when we turn again and continue walking away, we should expect his voice to carry and we should brace ourselves for at least one or two ping pong balls square to the back of the head. Anything he can do to bring us back there, wasting our time fighting a battle we have already won. Anything he can do to keep us there, locked in with him, still within sight and furiously busy answering his serve. Racking up points, but still trapped because we won't walk away. That's his end game.

Draw your battle lines. THIS is where his power ends. THIS is where the darkness breaks. End his game.

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