“A little child shall lead them.”
Yesterday I had my three-year-old granddaughter for the day. It was a day of startling candor and unexpected wisdom. When she arrived, she searched in earnest for some toys like the ones she was used to at home. But our house looked pretty plain, certainly by her standards. So, she settled on a simple chess board and decided to set the pieces up the way she had seen her older siblings doing. There was a lot she did not know but she had the basics. She told me I was white and she was black, and then proceeded to line the pieces up on the nearest rows, carefully assigning one square to each. She told me we take turns.
So, I began to play, wondering where this might lead. Initially, she copied me. If I moved a pawn she did too; when I reached for a bishop, she found hers. But before long her moves became bolder. I wondered what she was doing, until she said, “I want to put my horsey next to yours because I love you so much.”
In that moment something shifted for me. The whole point of chess was called into question and the rules melted. This game that I always found intimidating, was no longer about capturing your opponent. It was no longer about circling or subduing other pieces on the board. It was not about searching for weaknesses in an adversary’s defense. It was not about trapping or knocking over a king. The person across the table was not even an adversary. Suddenly, I was no longer nervous looking at the chess board.
This little sage is not unique, not matter how special she is for me. Every child has these moments of clarity. It makes you wonder whether we all start life looking at the board with kinder eyes. Perhaps we don’t need to knock the horsey pieces down. Maybe we could find ways to get together on the same side of the board because we’d all be happier acknowledging our commonality. Maybe there’s even some primal impulse in us to find ways to cozy up and be together. Maybe the spirit of adversity does not have to set the stage for the game of life. I know that is hard to imagine.
This Christmas, it is still impossibly hard, even after centuries of trying, As this little person put the horsies all together chess became a lovefest.
to imagine that a little child could ever lead us in our world today. Today when children are still regarded as collateral damage in so many places marked by outright war and the more subtle aggressions of daily injustice, the prophets point to another way, a hope seeded in the heart of each new life. Just imagine if life’s chess game logic could be de-fanged, and re-configured. Maybe we would not need to knock one another off the board, or capture territory to feel safe. Maybe we would not need to be so afraid of being captured. Maybe we could see life through the eyes of wonder and strive to cozy up to the people on the other side, because love is the purpose of this game we call life.
As we ended our game, I looked at all the crowded board, with each piece huddled together with other similar pieces in both colors, a lovefest, and every piece was smiling. You could feel it.