I played marbles a lot in grade school. (Lost a lot of my marbles there! 😦) I learned teamwork playing first base and sometime shortstop on a girls’ baseball team in junior high. (Softball was for wimps, and we were good enough to consistently beat the boys’ team.) But one of the most important lessons in life I learned playing Jacks.
My friends and I gathered for a Jacks-a-thon every recess on the covered cement patio outside the parish hall of our Lutheran school. We’d sit, legs folded neatly to the side. In those days, we wore dresses properly tucked to protect our modesty. (Thank God for slacks that came with feminism!) At first, we’d play with the rubber ball that came with the set at the five and dime. As time progressed, we began using golf balls, which bounced better.
It was a quiet game, and I loved quiet—even as a kid. We broke into twos—different pairs at different times. It helped us all connect as friends, and those friendships continue today. I don’t know who was best. (Chances are if I were best, I’d remember. 😀)
Jacks is a game that has its own built-in order and practice. First pick up one, then two, then three and so on. One can’t get to the next pickup until one finishes the last. If you missed a pickup, you started again. It’s a good game to prepare for life. Sometimes, I think too far down the road: How am I going to pick up ten? When I throw the jacks out, will they spread too far? In reality, I can only play the game in order. And when I get to the number ten, I will be practiced and ready for it.
What I learned playing Jacks works well in my writing. I ask myself when I’m going to find time to write. How am I going to write my next chapter—define my character? What will I do to market my book? But, as in the game of Jacks, writing is done one step at a time, and if I can concentrate on today, tomorrow will take care of itself.
“Sufficient unto the day is the trouble thereof.” That’s somewhere in the Bible. Keeping on task, not worrying about the next step, accepting mistakes and continuing on, letting the game (and life) unfold in logical order can be applied to any task in any environment. It works in small tasks like cooking, cleaning and paying bills and in large efforts like marriage, raising children, the work environment and planning for retirement.
I only have to train my mind to stay in the moment, to pick up what I need to learn today, to let step ten be what happens another day—and nothing I need to worry about now. When I get off track, I remember those games with my friends and remind myself that life and Jacks should be played in a similar way.