Once a pawn tried to size up the chessboard. The pawn had to admit it was at a disadvantage in not being able to see the whole of the board, in not knowing whether the square on which it found itself gave any true sense of the larger scheme of things or simply marked the limits of its own ability to understand. Suppose its own square really was the measure of the board: a microcosm reflecting the macrocosm, so to speak. If that was the case, what explained the difference in color of the four squares bordering it? How could its own square amount to anything, given this difference, but the exception to a surrounding conformity, the mark of how little it and its own position maybe counted for when all was said and done? Or did the hint of a kindred color touching on the very corners of the pawn’s square offer some heartening possibility that it was not alone and matches to the square waited out there some place? Although, if the board was merely a succession of black and white, and every square was the opposite of those on all four sides, was regularity in fact no more than repeated change, and nothing could be counted on to last or provide reassurance beyond the here and now? New to the game, the pawn had received what apparently counted as complete instructions on how to proceed, but these in themselves struck it as both arbitrary and mysterious, with opportunity for quick advance likely as not to end in stalemate or, worse, to being snatched from the board into sudden oblivion. And the promise in the instructions of a grand reward for making it all the way across this shifting enigma—rebirth in a form as different from the pawn’s present one as day was from night or triumph was from defeat—seemed an invitation to self-aggrandizing delusion rather than genuine fulfillment. But to remain here on its little square, with retreat impossible and advance uncertain, might leave the pawn’s fate entirely at the mercy of forces playing out their obscure strategies over the far reaches of the board, indifferent to the effect their own purposes could have on a lowly pawn or two. Forces perhaps ready even to sacrifice all pawns—every last one of them—to some greater plan if need be. Better never to have found oneself in this predicament, the pawn reasoned, where the only escape lay in an imagined rewriting of the rules: a wholesale rejection of their constraints. Beginning with this board. Whatever the number of squares set for its limits, they should be doubled, again and again, and their lines redrawn until “limits” lost all meaning and where the board began or ended was insignificant as well. What one might conceive to be a square, a board, or a pawn must be freed of old definitions in favor of new ones. Pawn, pawn, pawn, pawn, pawn! Now shape and color and movement and aim would defy all bounds and designations, as dreams and inspiration do. And, as dreams and inspiration, redefine everything else in turn! . . . But how many pawns were ready to take that risk? What if all the rules changed, yet none of them dared to make the first move?
Copyright © 2020 by Geoffrey Grosshans