Friday, August 21, 2009

Think ahead . . . your move has consequences

I'm always listening for something to write about. Often I hear something worth writing about but don't get around to writing it down. So something happened that I think is worth sharing. I'm not sure what the moral of the story is.

We were having a sports day at work. I chose to play chess and landed up playing against a black man who was somewhere in his fifties. He was a good player. His face was square and silent as he moved. No surprise, even if chess is a quiet game, memories of a life time of being treated like slaves by white women taught older black men in South Africa that it is wiser to be quiet in certain company.

After the game, I asked him where he learned to play. He said he had learned to play in jail.

"I was jailed for killing a white man." his face was expressionless, only the warmth of his voice distracting from the severity of the comment.

Stunned, I just sat there, not moving, I was playing against a co-worker who had murdered someone - how rare was that?

"That was very long ago, many years," he said. "In jail I learned many things, how to play chess, also to weld." He looked straight at me while I tried to remove all expression from my face.

"So I changed from a bad man . . . when I was released the company gave me this job as a welder." He smiled a big, broad smile, strong white teeth flashing against his dark skin. With that he turned around and left. His humility stunned me as one of a dozen impressions zoomed through my mind.

Did he think it was more important to me that it was a white man that he had killed? How could he be so open about it? I looked down at my white hands and wondered how big the divide between one human being and another can be.

I considered that the one thing we did have in common is that people were willing to teach us and we were willing to learn. Of course he had much tougher circumstances to rise above than I who use to be part of the then privileged white minority.

We crossed the divide in the game of chess, the game that teaches you to think ahead, work out a strategy, think before you make a move and remember . . . your move as consequences.

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