It’s best to play it as best you can. But once and once only.
by Harry Buschman
The old man sat in the room alone. It was dim, just a single light over the game table. It illuminated a labyrinth lying unattended––a bewildering maze of pathways beginning at a place called “START” and ending at a place called “FINISH.”
The old man gave up reluctantly and signaled the Gatekeeper he had finished.
He stood up and stared at the labyrinth as the Gatekeeper took the pencil from his hand and left it for the next player.
The old man had been tracing the years of his life back through the labyrinth to his very first day, back where he began at a place called “start.” He timidly asked the Gatekeeper if he could play a little longer and maybe try one more path. “I haven’t gotten to the finish line,” he reasoned. “I’m sure I could find another path to the finish.”
“The game is not played that way, you can’t ever go back. You’ve done quite well you know. Look how far you’ve come.”
“I’m sure I could go farther.”
“The pencil is indelible in any case. The path you’ve taken cannot be erased.” He put his hand on the old man’s shoulder.
“Thousands of people started with you at the same time and look, hardly any of them are still playing.”
The Gatekeeper showed him the thousands of routes that began on the very day his did. Almost all of them ended at blank walls far back of him.
“Doesn’t anyone win the game? Do any of us reach the finish line?”
“No, my friend. That’s not why we play the game. The journey is the important thing. Look at all these people…” He showed the old man a cul-de-sac far back where millions of people ended their play abruptly. “That was the war,” he said. “Do you remember? We called it the Great War?”
“Yes, I remember it well,” the old man said. “It wasn’t fair. They missed so much.”
“What did they miss?”
“Everything. Everything since then, marriage, family, career. happiness––everything life offers. They finished the game before they got a chance to play.”
“You had all those things, didn’t you?”
The old man hung his head. “Yes, I did,” he said.
“Remember them. You can take your memory with you… you know.”
“What’s it like… where you’re taking me, I mean?”
“Another room. Another game. Another chance to play.”