“A Constellation of Vital Phenomena”:Taking Risks

Risk map in Wikipedia.
Risk map (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I remember as a little girl spending countless hours hunkered over the board game, Risk. As the air conditioner cooled our house from the scorching heat of northern California valley summers, my elementary school friends and I would hunker over the globe, carefully strategizing our next move against countries I had never heard of before. We never imagined our world as a constellation of vital phenomena. Marching our players across the flattened, cardboard world, we had no more desire for world domination than any other nine-year-old. I believe we simply wanted an escape, a way to pass the long, summer day without today’s diversions of the internet, satellite TV or iPads.

In our young minds, the world really did have boundary lines. We assumed that moving from country to country, state to state, would involve some sort of hopscotch game in order to transport ourselves out of one place and into another. None of us had ever left the west coast, let alone the United States. we read Scholastic World magazine, looked at our parent’s subscription to National Geographic, and only imagined those places too far away to really touch.

The Earth seen from Apollo 17.
“a constellation of vital phenomena”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We couldn’t transport ourselves with a click of a mouse, fly over the South American jungles via Google Earth, or even comprehend the idea of one day setting our own two feet in the dust of a Nicaraguan road on a quest to discover what was really happening beyond our boundaries.

One roll of the dice, and our players advanced in the game, one more move towards occupying every territory and eliminating the other players. I remember the tickle of my tongue as I tried to pronounce “Kamchatka”, and the giggles when we landed on “Yakutsk“. Ural, Ukraine, Mongolia, Indonesia…our black and red players marched forward capturing one continent after another in our imaginary world where the Earth’s boundaries really were drawn in the sand, and the people there merely tokens in our game.

It wasn’t until nearly forty years later that I stopped to think about Risk and what it taught me.  I sorted through the pieces in my mind,  doing a quick Google search now and then for the new names of those foreign lands. I remembered the coolness of the linoleum floor as we lay prone for hours and hours, never wanting the game to end. I realized the damage it might have done as we learned from such a young age that the name of the game was to conquer at all costs, and I realized that actually, what it taught me was that what we do effects others. Our strategies impact lives. We may be divided by those imaginary boundaries, but we all share the same space together on Earth, despite where the lines are drawn or the battles fought. We are interdependent, reliant on each other to play the game. To break down the boundaries. To roll the dice, sometimes not knowing where we’ll end up, but knowing where we’d like to go.

To take risks.

This post was inspired by the novel A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra. In a war torn Chechnya, a young fatherless girl, a family friend, and a hardened doctor struggle with love and loss. Join From Left to Write on May 20 as we discuss Anthony Marra’s debut novel. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes. To purchase your own copy, visit http://amzn.to/XWBaxN.


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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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  1. Hey there, You have done a fantastic job. I will definitely digg it and personally suggest to my friends.
    I’m confident they’ll be benefited from this site.
    Agustin recently posted…AgustinMy Profile

  2. I never played “Risk” but my husband did! He was obsessed with the game in high school and college.

    I think I got it a bit backwards when it comes to risk, I played it much safer when I was younger and now am much more likely to take a risk. I’m glad my kids have seen both my husband and I push ourselves into new avenues. As always, thanks for a great post!
    Kathy Radigan recently posted…Twenty Ways to Deal with Writer’s BlockMy Profile

    1. Kathy, maybe you two should try it out together! It’s really fun, and might just inspire you to take off for places far away and unknown! Thanks so much for commenting today! ~Jennifer

  3. What a great post! My kids love to play Risk and they’ve been teaching me a thing or two, not only about the board game, but about taking risks, too.

    1. Learning about the world is one of the best things we can teach our children…we learn so much about ourselves by witnessing others. Thanks for commenting! -Jennifer

  4. I played Risk as a kid as well – i love that you tagged this post with Yakutsk, which I always loved, due to the two “k” sounds. And, you’re right – we gotta take risks.

    1. Hi Janaki, taking risks provides such a great example for our children, as well as showing ourselves that we are stronger and wiser than we know. How else can we move forward in life? Thanks for stopping by! -Jennifer

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