The whole table: three clues for a great life

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, September 21, 2005

In the midst of so much bad news lately, hurricanes and otherwise, it's refreshing to pause and reflect on pleasanter things.

For instance, this past weekend I accepted an invitation from Cochrane real estate agent Denis Champagne to be a spectator at a pool tournament at the Texas Gate in which he was competing.

Now, I'm totally clueless when it comes to pool cues and cue balls. So Denis pulled up a chair and talked me through the game. And as we watched the players clear the table inning by inning – the five ball in the corner pocket, the six ball in the side, and so forth – he went beyond the immediate competition to show how pool, especially in small-town settings, offers three clues for having a great life.

The first, he said, is how egalitarian the game is. Men and women, tall and short, stout and thin, athletic and not so athletic – all could play if they had a mind to. Like life itself, it's open to anyone willing to follow a few simple rules.

And like life, you have to see the table as a whole, he said – not simply the next ball you intend to sink, but the positions of all the other balls on the table; and you have to consider the consequences of your choices many shots ahead, if possible even to the final moment when you victoriously sink the eight ball.

The third clue, he said, was that small-town pool is not about bitter competition, but about mutual respect and fun. It's about celebrating the heartwarming moments in life that lead to the other players' greater enjoyment.

He illustrated these three clues with another game he loves. Denis has coached boys hardball teams. His philosophy has been to place "every kid in every position," he said, to give the young players the chance to find their own areas of strength – and just to have fun. Some less-gifted kids may never progress to the next level, but he's always wanted even the less-gifted to have the best memories possible of their time on the team.

His job as coach isn't to intimidate, he said, but to encourage, for he looks not only at the baseball field as a whole, or the game as a whole, or even the series as a whole. He looks at the kid's life as a whole.

Well, the clock told me I had to end our conversation before I had a chance to watch Denis himself sink a few balls. (He told me later, however, his team did okay in the tournament.)

What I took with me from Denis's three "pool clues for living" sensitized me anew to the positive attitudes so many of the rest of you bring to your day-to-day lives.

For example, Edmontonian Colleen Chapman wrote this week about a change in her email address. I'd learned she was celebrating her 60th birthday this month and wished her the best.

Now, some people take growing old very hard. But Colleen sees "the whole table" and finds delight in the bigger picture.

"My particular enjoyment of age is this," she responded: "Whenever I'm in that space that says 'I know nothing, I will never know anything,' God sends me a young person who says to me, 'Oh, Colleen, you are so wise!'"

She also chooses to look at her eye disorder of macular degeneration in the same spirit. "It makes the world a softer and more beautiful place," she wrote. "I can say to old friends, 'You haven't changed a bit,' and really mean it."

Another of our e-mail coffee companions, Ottawa journalist Henry Heald, was through Cochrane this week and shared with me his recently published book of poetry, Marking Time: Collected Verses (available locally at Westlands Bookstore). Hank's getting on in years, too, and his hair is considerably whiter and sparser than mine. Like Denis and Colleen, he has seen "the whole table" and captured that bigger picture in his book's title poem:

It matters not how we mark time,
In minute, hour, month or year,
What matters is how time marks us,
Time passed in self-concern and fear
Ages quickly and embitters,
Time spent in selfless giving
Keeps us young and free of heart
To go on living.

Thank you all for your words of wisdom.

© 2005 Warren Harbeck

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