I’ve had a rough year. It started when I got a job transfer last summer. A new position meant a lot of learning and, in this particular case, more responsibility (unfortunately without a pay raise). I don’t have the most demanding job and I love the people I work with, but with any change of this size there’s bound to be some stresses involved. Luckily, I like to learn things (I wouldn’t play so many new games if I didn’t) and I was eager to gain some new skills. For the most part, I was doing pretty well. I was getting along with my new team and my performance seemed to be ahead of schedule. It was more work than I was accustomed to, for sure, but manageable. And then my mom lost her home.
My mom is the strongest person I know. She raised five kids and was now the primary caretaker for her own elderly mother and because of certain circumstances, she wasn’t be able to afford to stay in her home. So we packed up her things, put them in storage and she moved in with her brother. She had lost her home, many of her possessions and her independence. She was also about to lose her health.
Lupus is a curious disease. Even though my mom has been battling it for years, I’m still not sure exactly how it works. My basic understanding is that it is a disease in which your own body starts attacks itself. There are certain constants in life that give you comfort. That the sun will rise. That your loved ones be there when you need them. That BGG will go down when you’re in the middle of a game and need to look up a rule (I guess that one’s not so comforting). When they’re taken away from you, it can be devastating. Not only was my mom losing one of her constants, her health, it was her own body that was taking it away from her. The ultimate betrayal. If you can’t trust your own body, who can you trust? Things got really bad around Thanksgiving. Her lupus had cascaded into a myriad of other ailments and sicknesses and her heart was giving out. She needed a pacemaker.
Recovery was slow, but she was home and ever so slowly getting regaining her strength. We missed Thanksgiving together, but at least we would have Christmass. Or so we thought. Still weak from her surgery and a flare up of her lupus, she fell and hurt her ankle. It became infected and would require surgery. This started a nightmare stay in the hospital of nearly three months. Christmas and New Year were spent in a hospital room. I lost count of the doctors that came in and out. Multiple transfers to different departments were necessary to keep my mom stable. While I have nothing but nice things to say about the nurses and physicians that cared for my mom, but hospitals are no fun.
By this point you might be wondering when I’m going to get to the board games. Well, here we are. If someone were asked to describe me board games would most assuredly be mentioned. I’m “the guy with all the board games.” It’s what I do. I spend a fair amount of time reading about games, talking about them and, most importantly, playing them. However, during this stretch of my life I wasn’t playing much. I was still reading a bit here and there, trying to keep up, but my mind was elsewhere. I’m usually the one who initiates our game sessions and I just wasn’t up to it. It also didn’t help that the games I enjoy tend to of the longer, more complicated variety. After spending most of my free time trying to make sense of what multiple doctors were telling me, I wasn’t in the mood to organize a three hour game of Archipelago.
I didn’t give it much thought at the time. Frankly, I had more important things on my mind. I wasn’t quite myself during this period. I’m not sure if it was because I wasn’t playing or the cause of my lack of play. Either way, something was off. But it wasn’t permanent. My mom got better. She moved in with us and we were getting a full time caretaker to help her on her long road to recovery. It was more change in my life and another point of stress, but it was a whole lot better than the alternative. I was feeling better. A lot better. Winter was ending (such as they are in Southern California) and the sun was starting to shine. Spring had started which meant wedding season, which is a busy time for me as a part time wedding photographer and I was excited. Then my camera gear was stolen.
If someone were asked to describe me photography would most assuredly be mentioned. I’m “the guy with all the cameras.” It’s what I do. It gives me fulfillment like nothing else I do in life. And as a semi professional photographer, I loved my gear. Manipulating the dials and buttons is second nature to me. I know the curves and contours of my cameras like the back of my hand. They were in very real ways an extension of myself. Photography allowed me to express myself in ways that I can’t do otherwise and my camera equipment were the tools I used to do so. I had been collecting and crafting my camera kit for nearly a decade and I lost it all. I was crestfallen. It was a large monetary loss, but more than that I had lost a part of myself. I had a lost a means of self expression. I lost a part of myself and then I played some board games.
The day I discovered my stuff was missing I got a message from a friend. He was having an impromptu game night and wanted to know if I could come. Rather than wallow in my misery at home, I took him up on the offer and I was at his home playing games until two in the morning. And I had a blast. I didn’t have to worry all the money I’d lost and how I was going to deal with the wedding season. Board games were a reprieve from the worries, pain and anger I was feeling earlier. They were an escape. But above all, they were a chance to connect with friends. It was a reminder that, for as large as my loss was, it was just stuff. Very important, expensive stuff, but stuff all the same. Laughter. Competition. Trash talking. Conversation. All things only possible because of people. That night with my friends was just the reminder I needed.
Board games aren’t a solution to all the world’s problems, but they are important. They’re important in the way that cooking with your spouse is important. They’re important in the way that playing catch with your dad in the yard is important. Board games are a facilitator for human interaction, a medium through which memories are formed. The best board games are able to leverage the greatest asset at the table, the people, in order to create a satisfying game experience. The best people are able to leverage the opportunity that board games afford by forging stronger relationships. I’ve had a rough year, but I haven’t lost anyone and I haven’t lost the chance to play a game with them.