I suspect on the evening of Thursday, February 25 our neighborhood friend, Charlie, slept well. 

That afternoon, Charlie had survived a tough assignment—keeping an eye on his granddaughter as she scampered about the Trinity Preschool Playground at our church. 

This assignment had another degree of difficulty too.

 Charlie’s granddaughter had brought along her bicycle complete with training wheels and helmet. Riding around on the smooth asphalt of the back parking lot meant Charlie had to be quicker on his feet.

But Charlie, also kept an eye on an old fool—me. I too was taking advantage of this spring teasing February afternoon. I wanted to do some early spring cleaning around the dumpster and the cooling tower at our church.

Charlie saw me wrestling with an old extension ladder left by the dumpster. Someone had tried to ram it in the dumpster, but it wouldn’t fit. So armed with a hacksaw and a sledge hammer, I made the ladder fit. 

I think Charlie was worried about my pounding on the ladder’s frame. From a distance he thought—“Wow, old Bill sure has a lot of frustration in him today, I hope he doesn’t blow a gasket.”

But, Charlie’s observation made me think. You know we all experience times in life when life really pounds on us. Sometimes, that pounding arrives courtesy of our own shortcomings. 

When this happens to us, how do we endure that pounding from life? Luckily for us the pounding of life might be silenced by the help of another person.

My wife and I recently watched the seven part Netflix miniseries The Queen’s Gambit. This series was based upon a novel of the same name published in 1983 by Walter Tevis. The “queen’s gambit” is a move in chess. Chess becomes the central pivot point for Beth Harmon, the main character in the book and miniseries, as life begins its pounding on her.

Scott Frank, writer and director  of the series, gives the viewer just enough flashbacks to know that Beth Harmon’s early life is no picnic. All of this turmoil ends up in her being orphaned. 

At age nine, Beth is placed at the Methuen Home for Girls. There she learns to play chess taught by the custodian, Mr. Shaibel. Over a period of time, Mr. Shaibel recognizes that Beth is a very gifted player. Chess becomes her passion. 

As a teenager, Beth is adopted by a dysfunctional married couple. Eventually, the husband leaves, Beth and her adoptive mother bond, and in high school Beth’s chess skills begin to bring her national and international attention.

But her brilliance and success in chess are derailed by the unexpected death of her adoptive mother, and Beth’s own personal demons with tranquilizers and alcohol.

This pounding of self destruction takes quite a toll on her. Beth’s life is in complete shambles, opportunities in chess are squandered, her reputation is tarnished, and then one day in the stupor of a continuing hangover her doorbell rings.

Stumbling down the staircase to the front door, Beth is shocked to see her best friend from the orphanage, Jolene. 

For a few seconds, the characters shared the surprise of seeing how they have changed. But in that first quick glimpse of Beth, Jolene senses something isn’t quite right with her friend.

Jolene has reached out to Beth to let her know that Mr. Shaibel has died. Jolene wonders if Beth would like to attend his funeral with her.

They attend the very bleak church funeral, and after the funeral the women make a stop at the orphanage. Jolene stays in the car, but Beth with some reluctance enters the building and goes to the dimly lit basement room where Mr. Shaibel taught her to play chess.

In that room, Beth discovers a bulletin board of newspaper clippings that Mr. Shaibel kept about her accomplishments in chess. She removes from the board a photograph of her and Mr. Shaibel, and returns to the car.

Back in the car, Beth has the breakdown— the good cry, the cleansing cry, the beginning of a restart. 

But, Jolene’s work isn’t over.

Jolene who is working at a law firm and saving her pennies to go to law school takes a gamble—she loans Beth the money she needs to travel to Russia for the Moscow International Chess Tournament. (Wikipedia)

Jolene saves Beth. 

Life’s pounding on Beth stops. 

And I know what you are thinking. Bill there is a huge difference between real life pounding, and this Hollywood script based upon a fictional novel.

That is a valid point, but like in chess, let me counter your assertion.

People who help to stop the pounding on other people appear in real life too.

Just ask Moses Ingram, the actress who portrayed, Jolene. Ask her about Nana Gyesie, a student advisor at Baltimore City Community College.

Ingram aspired to be an actor. She credits Gyesie for the encouragement and collaborating with Ingram to develop a plan for achieving her goal.

In a recent interview in the Washington Post, here is what Ingram said about her student advisor:  “He never minimized my dreams. He dreamed with me. About everything my dreams could be. And then he brought it down to layman’s terms and was like, ‘Let’s come up with a plan to get you where you want to be.’ And that’s what we did,” Ingram said. (Keith L. Alexander Washington Post 2/25/21)

With more encouragement, stage experiences, and determination, Ingram was accepted into the Yale School of Drama. She graduated in 2019.

Life has always been tough, but 2020 was brutal for lots of people. And, I want to be very honest, we are a long, long way from leaving 2020 in our rearview mirror—the pounding on people continues.

It makes absolutely no difference to me if the inspiration to alleviate the pounding a person is experiencing comes from a fictional character  or  a real live human being.

However you, me, we, us need to remember— one person can stop the pounding in another person’s life, and we never know when that opportunity might appear.

We might not ever know how that quality time Charlie spent chasing his granddaughter on a pretty February afternoon will impact her.

But, I would wager someday, Charlie’s granddaughter will remember fondly the time, patience, and love he shared with her.

And if the opportunity presents itself to ease the pounding experienced by a frazzled friend, neighbor, or stranger—you, me, we, us are obligated to give our time, patience, and love to those in need.

That pounding needs to stop.

Spring cleaning photo by Bill Pike

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