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Keep Playing the Game with the Cards You Have


As we poured the bingo balls from our hands into the small cage, some would immediately find the hole and jump out ahead of the game. A phone's camera was set up to capture the process for Zoom and it filmed our hectic recapture of the stray balls. This wasn't an average bingo game; it was a lottery for open spots at a school.

The spaces available were limited compared to the applicants assigned to each ball. It's a little surreal to call the numbers and not think about the kids and families attached to them when you pluck the numbers and read them out. N43 could be a kindergartner brand new to a school environment whose parents thought the school would work best for them. B12 could be a nervous tween waiting for a spot in 7th grade and hoping for a fresh start by transferring from another school where they were bullied.

Each ball represented a possible trajectory of life. It's not that attendance at a specific school will assure a life of success, but drawing each ball was a small beat of butterfly wings that could affect life in unknown ways.

Parents choosing a different school means a different daily route for their child. Maybe their child will see a statue in a park out of the window of their parents' van that inspires them to create art someday. Or perhaps that student who asked for a change finally finds friends that will build them up when the world tears them down.

It's those paths that we are set on by the good or bad choices of others that are the foundation you're left to build your life on. And we often don't know what we're building until we gather things along the way.

I've always been envious of those who knew what they wanted to be when they grew up. I glommed onto the idea of being an architect for a few years because the title sounded sharp, and the idea of shaping a structure out of your imagination seemed like magic.

"Why did you never become that?" asked my son the other night. "Too much math," I said.

But the truth is more that I pulled different numbers representing different choices; before that, other choices were pulled for me.

I've been in New Mexico for over 20 years, but it could have been Arizona if my dad had chosen a different air force base to retire his career. Perhaps I would have still married a Mexican man, but he might have been from Sonora instead of Chihuahua. My cuisine might be just a touch different; my kids would be too — but I wouldn't know the difference.

It's like those bogus hypothetical questions: Would you go back to being 20 with your current knowledge? Even with the lure of all that extra collagen back in my face, there's no way I'd go back in time. I'd take the DeLorean to drive my daughter to swim lessons instead of going to buy a sports almanac for the future.

I'm not a gambler, but maybe the game of life is not necessarily about winning but playing the game. The more cynical might see the game as a crapshoot. I see it more like playing bingo in good company, a chance at a new ending that's open to you with each new ball, if you just keep enjoying the game.

Cassie McClure is a writer, millennial, and unapologetic fan of the Oxford comma. She can be contacted at cassie@mcclurepublications.com.