Playing Chess With the Sea

By Emma Miao (’22)

Today is December first. The first of the lasts. Another milestone to remind me of high school silking through my fingers. Of time, fragmenting and sheathing into wind. The race out of high school is a well-versed topic this time of year. Must we constantly prove we are better? That we have a path forward, carved out for us in fine dust along the horizon? I guess we are all trying to answer the same questions: What lies ahead? And am I ready to face it? 

I ran along the beach today. As I neared the life-size stone statue of the anchor that signalled the end of the shore, I slowed & turned my gaze north, towards the ocean, the mountains. After a series of wet, dark, windy days, today was refreshingly cold and dry, the sun beating weak but proud from the white tresses of the sky. I found myself walking towards the water until I stood in-line with the lip of the sea.The buoys continued their hollow tap-tapping. The waves lapped at my feet, steadily, stealthily. They were trying to tell me something. 

I edged the tips of my running shoes against the white line of the breaking water. The white of the cresses surged towards my feet, again and again, only to miss the roughened black soles of my shoes and recede into the distance. I stood there longer, willing the waves to splash higher, but even within a millimetre of me, they turned, and, as if by metaphysical force, it decided to turn back. I stood, strangely pulled still by the placidity of the mountains and red, floating steamships in front of me. A moment later, larger waves, spurned by the heightened wind, inched onto the rubber of my Nikes.

In the opening chapters of the The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart, the protagonist, Reynie, takes a test. One question in particular read: according to the rules of chess, is this position possible? 

When the water hit my shoes, I thought about my own insecurities. How, these past months, I’d stay up late, pondering if I’d done enough, if I was good enough. Poring over small mistakes on tests like they determined my self worth.

I remember pulling up a Ted Talk by Rachel Smets. Remember hearing that we are scientifically wired to remember our losses more than our wins, even after we internalize their triviality. Remember hearing that when I spend time paining over past decisions and mistakes, I lose out on the present, and by extension, my small foothold on the future. 

Afterwards, I don’t know why I stayed on the beach, the water inching steadily up the soles of my shoes. Perhaps I wanted to affirm, quietly, that I had made the right choices: of running that day, of walking onto the shoreline, or more broadly, of choosing to be the kind of person who stops next to the beach and listens to the gulls caw into the vast blue sky.

The position above is possible. The white knight had moved, and after his opponent’s turn, changed his mind, making it seem like he never moved at all. “And do you believe this was a good move?” Mr. Benedict had asked. “No, sir,” Reynie had answered. “Why, then, do you think he made it?” And Reynie had replied, “Perhaps because he doubted himself.”

We are all at different points along different beaches, cold and naked and waiting for the waves of success to embolden us, empower us, call us out of the swarthy pits of high school, wreath upon our shoulders a thing called “change”. Waiting for someone to discover us like we couldn’t discover ourselves. But finding ourselves is as certain as the waves miscarrying over the cove’s mossy rocks every night, again, and again. 

Many times over, I’ve wondered whether my feet were in the right place, firmly planted into the right shoreline. But today’s run reminded me. I am in the right place. The tide will come. 

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