Where the dominoes fall

For Friday evening recreation, five of us seminarians tried a new domino game called Mexican Train. The goal is for a player to play all his/her dominoes in one or more chains from a central station. Any leftover dominoes for the losers would be added to the point total. The winner is the one with the fewest points after several rounds.

I was riding beginners’ luck and was leading in points toward the second-to-the-last round. But Brother Rafael in second place and I started that round without the beginning domino to start our train. We couldn’t play our dominoes without it. We either would be lucky by drawing the domino from the pile or receiving it from the other players.

The other players pounced on our misfortune and refused to help. Brother Rafael and I kept adding useless dominoes to our stacks. One player twice played a domino that could help either of us for his own benefit. He laughed at my sour expression at him.

This domino would teach me some ugly truths about myself. All I needed was a domino that had one half with a one. But that would be a long time before I received one.

Finally, Brother Rafael got lucky from the stack and one of the opponents gave me a beginning domino. But by then, I had nearly doubled my starting number of dominoes. I shed one with the highest points and a few others before the round ended. My points for the round were … 302! (My highest point gain till then had been 44.)  I more than doubled my total tally and plummeted to last place.  Brother Rafael added about 200 points and fell to fourth place.

The last round came and went with the two of us unchanged in our positions.

I was steaming inside. I walked away before I said or did anything stupid. But my thoughts were racing: How dare they do such a thing! Shouldn’t community be about helping others instead of colluding people together to destroy those closest to them? Oh, if the tables were turned, I would show no mercy. Next time I play, if I have all the beginning dominoes in the round, I wouldn’t give them any until the end. That will show them.

But I have reflected upon my reactions since that loss.

Maybe this game was to teach me these lessons:

  • People will conspire against me for their own gain. I will encounter this outside the seminary as I seek to spread the mercy of God. That message has roused opposition (sometimes, violent and conspired) for centuries. Can I be humble enough to accept resistance and humiliation for Christ?
  • Discover the story behind my reactions. This seething cauldron of resentment reminded me of my childhood and teenage years when I harbored grudges after bullying or perceived snubs. Maybe I needed a spotlight on this painful part of my past. Can I change these age-old habits? Can I move past a bad incident instead of stewing in my brain?

That Friday evening revealed that I flopped on both lessons. Since then, I sometimes harbor feelings of vengeance and other times, I am more magnanimous. Meanwhile, Brother Rafael had taken the loss in stride, even joking about it the morning after.

I know that I can’t integrate these lessons without God’s help.

Life in Christ entails a transformation, especially in those areas where we are unaware of trouble or are unwilling to allow God’s grace to enter. This is true for lifelong Catholics, recent converts and even Protestants, who ascribe to the doctrine of “once save, always save.” An encounter with an unselfish love will always prompts in the receiver.

My meditations and prayer have focused on forgiving myself and releasing any resentment. Jesus and the Virgin Mary have begun the long process to unwind this knot in my life. Any resentful thought I notice and release into the wind to be blown away. But this, I suspect, will be a lifelong project.

Let us pray.

“O Lord, who willed that your Son teach us to be reconciled with you and one another, heal our wounds and help us release our resentments so that we may grow always in fraternal charity and mercy through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

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