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The Visitor--an inspirational short story series

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"...Choose only entertainment and media that uplift you. Good entertainment will help you to have good thoughts and make righteous choices...Do not participate in entertainment that in any way presents immorality or violent behavior as acceptable."
For The Strength of Youth

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    Ch. 44 The Wisdom of the Wise
 
Submitted by Steven ODell on 12 January 2009 - 4:04pm.

A Friendly Game
Steven G. O'Dell (C) 2008

Roland Marsh waited patiently at the Chess table in the park. His friend was late--something that had been unheard of during the several years that they had been playing. As he kept staring along the sidewalk by which his friend would approach, Roland worried that something terrible may have happened.

While engaged in this state of focus, he was suddenly surprised by a voice that came from behind him. As he turned, the man came around into his view.

"Hello. Wonderful day for a game of Chess, isn't it?"

"Uhh, yes, it is."

"I have always found it to be a fascinating game. Are you waiting for someone?"

"Yes, I am. He's late, though. Rather unusual for him, I must say."

The new arrival stared off in the direction that Roland involuntarily indicated and sighed thoughtfully. Turning back to Roland, he asked carefully, "Do you think it would be permissible to sit in until he gets here? I wouldn't want to intrude, but perhaps you would feel better to be playing than to be worrying?"

Roland furrowed his brow in thought for a moment before replying, looking off down the sidewalk again.

"Perhaps you are right. Yes, please do. My name is Roland," he said, offering his hand. "What is your name?"

"My name is Kumen. I know--a strange name, but a great fellow." He grinned disarmingly as he said it and Roland couldn't help but smile at this show of false immodesty.

The pieces were already set up and according to the rules regarding color, Kumen made the first move. "Do you like silence or discussion as you play, Roland?"

"What? Oh. I had never really thought about it. I have no problem with discussion while we play. Suit yourself."

"Good. I have this problem with ideaphoria."

"Ideaphoria? I've never heard the term. What does it mean?"

"Well, it refers to a rapid generation of ideas. We are all like a relational database in our minds, but my mind goes extremely quickly from one thing to another and strings them all together--in a logical pattern, usually. Not sure if it's a blessing or a curse, at times." He smiled again. Roland had the impression that good-natured humor was a common state for Kumen.

"Interesting. What is the subject that occupies your mind most recently?" He made his responding move.

"I wish it were just one thing, Roland. I think of everything from the purpose of life to the symbolisms in the game of Chess."

Roland stopped and looked with full attention at Kumen. "So you are a philosopher. This could be very interesting. As to the meaning of life...well, that subject could occupy an entire lifetime and still not be solved. Regarding the symbolisms in Chess, I would like very much to hear your opinions."

"Alright, but just remember--you asked for it." His chuckle was enticing in a strange way. "There is, of course, the obvious--Chess is a game of war and strategy. That it has been played by great military strategists is common knowledge. That it is a game of mathematics is equally well known, I would think. There are perhaps unlimited combinations of moves that might be made. But Chess is also very much analogous to life itself. Every move is a choice that the player must make for himself, if he is to become accomplished at the game. Every move, or choice, has a consequence. As in life, there is no taking back a move. Once made, it stands forever and every move thereafter is affected by that one choice. It determines to a great degree how your fellow beings (or players) will respond to you. To a significant extent, you choose their paths, as well, and a seemingly immeasurable number of paths present themselves to the player--to each player."

"My goodness! You are a philosopher after all. And it appears we are fated to discuss the meaning of life." He listened with rapt attention and rested his elbows on the table, a hand over his chin in thought. No longer was the game his focus. "Go on, please."

"In Chess, the goal is to win. You do not wish to end in a stalemate, nor do you wish to lose. In life, it is different."

"Wait a moment. I thought you were making comparisons. Now you make contrasts?"

"Yes. To quote a very wise man, 'There must needs be opposition in all things.' Just as a battery does not operate without a positive and a negative pole or a magnet has opposing ends or a left hand is distinguished only by its relationship to a right hand, there is an opposing view or component in all things."

"Kumen, you are a remarkable man, I must say. This is fascinating."

"Even this game we are playing is only possible because we take opposing sides. Someone wins and someone loses or we have a stalemate."

"But life isn't all opposition. People cooperate all the time for the common good."

"True. And sometimes there is personal sacrifice for the common good or for the good of an individual, is that not so?"

"Well, yes. In families, especially."

"Roland, how do you feel about making a personal sacrifice for others?'

"What an odd question. I am sure I have made sacrifices for my family many times."

"What about for people you don't even know?"

Roland sat in stunned silence. The question was totally unexpected and in a strange way was uncomfortable. He didn't know what was coming and wasn't certain he wanted to know.

"Roland, would you, for example, donate a kidney to save the life of a child that wasn't a direct family member?"

"Well,...I'm not certain. Perhaps I would, but I probably will never have to decide that question."

""Perhaps not. What about for an adult who may die without your blood type? Or your kidney? Does your generosity extend that far?"

"Kumen, is there a purpose to this line of questioning? I am beginning to feel a bit uneasy."

"Oblige me for a moment. There is a point to it. The point is that life is like a huge Chess game to some degree. Every move you make has consequences. Like dropping a stone in the water, you send out waves that have far-reaching effects. These effects can be for good or evil.

"These actions can be ones that you think to be of no importance, yet they are. Crossing the street slowly in front of an already enraged driver who is late for work, for instance."

"Kumen, there are some things you simply have no control over. You go on with life anyway."

"True. But what if you were afforded the opportunity to have some control over those things that normally are considered trivial and have far-reaching effect?"

"This is merely an academic question, right? You can't possibly be offering me such a thing."

"In fact, Roland, that is exactly what I am offering you. I am going to bring to your attention a matter that you could have no other way of knowing, except that I should share it with you. Are you ready to have your reality shaken a bit?"

"I would be lieing if I said that you aren't making me nervous. I would also be amiss to say that I am not intrigued. Continue."

"Good man. Your employment requires you to process paperwork issues that can, on occasion, alter the course of the lives of your company's employees and their families."

"I suppose so, but how do you know that?" The suspicion was immediate.

"I will get to that soon enough. You are about to process some papers that will have a man terminated. He has a chemical imbalance and problems with depression, through no fault of his own. Sadly, it is affecting his work. It is only temporary, provided he gets the help he needs. Unfortunately, a bureaucracy, large or small, seldom sees the individual's needs and has compassion on him or her. All it sees is the bottom line--is it making money or costing money. And the definition of 'cost' may simply be that it now makes only a dollar where it made a dollar and ten cents before. Loyalty over decades isn't worth anything to most companies, either. Pension funds become slush funds for the company when it is convenient."

"Yes, that's true, but what am I supposed to do about it? I have no control over that, despite what you say."

"You do. I am submitting to you that you can save this man's job and his family's peace of mind, if you will. He has no coverage for this problem through the company medical plan. What are you going to do to help him?"

"This is highly irregular. I have been tolerant with you up to now...."

"Roland! If it were a family member, what would you do?"

Roland stopped short, surprised by the forcefulness and audacity of this man. Yet, there was an air of authority that he could not resist.

"I...I suppose I would...take up a collection and...." The thought struck him like a thunderbolt even as he said it. It was all so simple. This was the stone in the pond and would result in the ripples that would be for good and not evil. If it were left to company policy, the man would be fired and his family would suffer. He couldn't allow that to happen. It was the right thing to help in any way possible. A few dollars here and there would allow him the funds to take a leave and get the treatment he needed. "I see now what you mean. At least I think so."

"I think you do, too. Roland, you are a good man. Even good men occasionally need a reminder that they are good men. You will do well to recall that--as often as you can. Now, I must go, but there is something else you need to know. The friend you were waiting for...."

"Yes. I wonder where he is." He looked around, remembering his concern for the man who still was not there.

"He's in the hospital, Roland. He's had a massive heart attack. He isn't going to make it, I am sorry to say. He was to retire in a month, as you know. This will have quite an effect on his wife. She won't get his pension now."

Roland shook his head in disbelief. "You can't possibly know these things. Who are you, anyway?"

"I think you know who I am, Roland. All you have to do is search your heart and you will know." He waited silently and seriously. Gone was the smile that had adorned him before. In its place was a look of sad compassion for a friend who was about to lose an acquaintance that he cared very much about.

"What hospital is he in?" The tears were fast to come and the emotion all but overcame him in an instant. Kumen informed him as to the details of both men he had discussed, then lifted him to his feet and embraced the sorrowing man. There was no resistance. These men who had but half an hour before been unknown to one another, now embraced in a bond of brotherhood and human comfort that would have been unthinkable previously.

"Thank you," Roland said softly as Kumen released him. "Thank you for reminding me again of the truly important things in life. If it were me in their positions, I would want personal and meaningful help like what you have suggested. I give you my promise that I will do something about this."

"Good. You'll be okay now, Roland. And I promise that you will change the course of more lives in a single act than most men change in a lifetime. I must go now. Keep your word and you will have blessings you can't begin to imagine in this life." His smile was back, plus the compassion Roland had been so grateful for.

Roland got to see his hospitalized friend before his passing, something that would have been impossible before Kumen told him where he was. The man's wife was there and allowed him in, knowing what a friendship the two men had enjoyed. Roland was also on hand to comfort the grieving widow, which he would otherwise have missed in her hour of greatest need. It helped him, too, he found. He didn't have to go through it alone. They both had a good cry and then reminisced about all the things they cherished most about the deceased. It was a time of healing that might never have taken place for either of them, except for Kumen's appearance.

Roland also kept his promise. Not only did he take up a substantial collection for the temporarily-disabled man and make a new and dear friend in the process, but a fund was started for the widow that would see to her modest needs for the remainder of her life. Roland was already thinking that when she passed, it would be a wonderful thing to continue the fund for some other cause, just as worthy. It felt good--no, it felt like pure joy to have the power to make such a difference in the lives of others. It was so simple a thing to do, but so often escaped the average man or woman. He vowed that the opportunity to serve would never escape him again. The blessings were too great--and the chance to change the world, too important. From now on, his life would be a friendly game, win or lose.

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