Day 43: “Whac-A-Mole”

(I’ll be the first to admit that today’s blog entry is a lot more rambling than rumination, mostly because I had literally no idea what I was going to write about until a couple hours ago.)

I think it’s fair to say most – if not all – of us have days – or weeks – or maybe even months – when we feel like we’re living in a game of Whac-A-Mole.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the game, I’m going to quote Wikipedia:

Whac-A-Mole is a popular arcade redemption game invented in 1976 by Aaron Fetcher of Creative Engineering, Inc.

A typical Whac-A-Mole machine consists of a large, waist-level cabinet with five holes in its top and a large, soft, black mallet. Each hole contains a single plastic mole and the machinery necessary to move it up and down. Once the game starts, the moles will begin to pop up from their holes at random. The object of the game is to force the individual moles back into their holes by hitting them directly on the head with the mallet, thereby adding to the player’s score. The quicker this is done the higher the final score will be.

Life – especially human interaction – can be a lot like that.

Whenever we interact with someone, there’s always a risk of being hurt. Most days, we venture outside of ourselves and the safety of our solitude (our own private little mole hole) into the world. We know that there’s a risk of being hurt, but we accept it, because the connection and the conversation and the interaction and the trust are worth the risk – especially compared to the darkness and the isolation of the hole, however safe we might feel whenever we’re inside of it.

Some days, we enjoy the connection and the conversation and the interaction and the trust, and we escape unscathed. And we know that it was so, so worth it to take the risk of being hurt.

Other days, there’s someone (acquaintances, co-workers, family, friends, neighbors, and strangers all eventually seem to take their turn) or something (circumstances, coincidences, conflicts, decisions, fate) just waiting for us to come out, and we barely have a chance to think before the mallet comes down on our head.

It doesn’t matter whether we see it coming, because, even if we do, there’s no escape, and when the mallet makes contact, it doesn’t always feel the same. Some people hit harder – and have better aim – than others. Sometimes it’s just a light, glancing blow that stings a little, and we still decide that it was worth it. Other times, it’s a hard, direct hit that hurts like hell, and we wonder why we ever took the risk.

Regardless of the intent or motivation (or lack thereof) behind the hurt, after the mallet hits, we (just like the mole) go back into our hole.

The mole doesn’t get to choose when he comes out again. We do, and every time we get hurt and retreat back into ourselves, we have to make a choice: when, who, how, and how much do we trust again?

For me, at the end of the day, it isn’t about trying to forget the times that I’ve been hurt before (because that isn’t going to happen) or trying to believe (or even to pretend) that I’m not going to get hurt again (because that isn’t going to happen, either). It’s about learning (or at least remembering) how to trust again – and realizing that the risk (and even the reality) of being hurt is part of the context of connecting with other people (which will always be important to me, despite my pronounced introversion) – and about remembering to hold my head high (and my own mallet low).

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