Last night I was playing chess. The young man opposite the table was a refugee from Iraq.
We had just gotten through the opening moves of the game. Like a tennis match chess seems to follow a set pattern. The opening movements are like the first volleys of a match. The two players start testing each other. Firing long balls, and others tight to the net looking for any weakness, eyeing the other, trying to determine the others game plan while making adjustments to one’s own game. The difference being instead of muscle and athletic prowess of tennis we are using something much more valuable, tangible, and dynamic.
We´re both so focused on the game. Intently studying the board, trying to extrapolate as many moves ahead as possible. Our minds are many miles from any problems, or concerns we may have. Instead we are completely absorbed on the task at hand.
This young man started to push up the board and forced me to make a few errors. He had captured my rook and knight. I had tried to return in kind but had only managed to take a couple of pawns when his phone rang.
I was hoping the young man would ignore the call, turn his phone to silent or better yet off, so we could dive further into the game. He didn´t. Looking at the number he quickly answered the call and left the table to talk in private.
Returning many minutes later with tears in his eye´s he informed us that he had to return to Iraq the next morning.
I do not know the details of the call. Weather he already knew he had to return; I do not know if decision was his; or forced upon him - if his asylum papers had been rejected. And I will never know. All I know is the utter devastation that was etched on his face. As tears streamed down his face I watched as he said goodbye to his friends. It was a shocking moment.
One minute we were supremely focused on a game of chess, planning strategizing, agonizing over our next moves. The next moment I see a man´s life completely lifted up upon itself and change course.