Well, Chute

Long ago and far away, I could hear gears softly grinding as I peered through the plastic scope.

Now? Not quite.

Now? Ooh, close.

NOW!

With the pull of a lever and an abrupt click, a plastic figure of a parachutist dropped into a hole on the slowly spinning board.

“Nice job!”

The game was called Chutes Away, a proud product of the 1970s (complete with commercials starring Dick Van Dyke). The object was to drop a team of air-rescue skydivers into their moving targets below. And for me, it was as much a part of the school day as reading or math.

A wonky nervous system will do that.

You see, I was diagnosed with epilepsy when I was 3. One side effect for me – OK, several side effects for me – was that I had to work hard on skills involving coordination, balance, concentration and spatial perception. All of it required practice, sometimes with a wonderfully patient occupational therapist outside of school, sometimes with an equally patient counselor in Northridge Elementary’s “Resource Room.”

My resource room training had a lot of games, which I only realized the purpose of much later in life. Chess for planning and memory. Or Concentration for pattern recognition. And that silly game of Chutes Away for reflexes, timing, and anticipation.

If you kept yanking at the lever rapid-fire, scattering parachutists like so much dandelion fluff, you’d never win. But releasing when the crosshairs were right on the target was no good, either, because the board was in motion.  You had to lead the target, be patient, and move only when it was time to move.

Do that and you’d hit the target every time.

I think about that a lot in 2020.

Patience is hard this year. Believe me, I know it. My wife Heather, who collects autoimmune conditions the way some people collect action figures, has barely left the house except for medical appointments since March. Our ward Missy, for whom Zoom was once a curious novelty, has pretty much had it with faces on screens and virtual lives. And as much of a homebody as I am, I’m still occasionally growling at frustration at having to delay a trip out because I forgot to launder a face mask.

Simple things require thought. And that can get frustrating.

We’re certainly not the only ones. Pressure builds up. People want out. Folks grab at even the shadow of normal. We’ve seen it more than once: at holidays, at the resumption of classes, at any time where it seemed like a little release couldn’t possibly hurt.

The thing is – we know that story, don’t we?

And more often than not, we’re pulling the lever too soon.

I think most of us by now know someone who has COVID-19. Some of us (myself included) even know someone who’s died from it. We know what it takes to pull the curve down until a vaccine or cure arrives because we’ve done it before: patience, simple habits, basic practices. Any of us could list them in our sleep by now.

But knowing it is often easier than doing it, especially when there are so many pressures on all of us. We want a less-restricted life. We NEED it.

But if we don’t keep our eye on the target and wait for the right moments to act, we’re just going to keep hitting the landscape.

And every crash just makes the game harder.

It is hard. But we can make it. We can lead this target. We can hit it.

Together, we can show the world that we’re a bunch of straight chuters.

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