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Quite a while ago I came upon the following essay. I don’t remember where I found it and I don’t know who wrote but I thought it would be nice to share it with you as we all are starting a new cycle of Mah Jongg with the 2014 NMJL card.

If anyone does know the origin of this piece, please let me know and I will credit the author in a future post.

In Mah Jongg, as in Life, we start with a set number of random tiles.

They line up on the rack before us, like DNA sequences and chance circumstance.
We begin to make sense of the randomness, to arrange bams together, or
notice number sequences. We make sense of what we’ve been given to start
with. We form our core “identity” and try to make sense of it.

There is in Mah Jongg, as in Life, an element of destiny or inevitability.
Some might call it Fate. Some people are born with more “Jokers” —- more
good fortune, if you will —- than others. Some people have an obvious
life path, based on given talent or proclivity.

But in Mah Jongg, as in Life, we have free will. From the tiles before us
we have a choice as to which “hand” to play, which “path” to take. There
are often several possible directions open to us. The decisions we make
early on affect the direction our hand will take.  The skill we bring to the
play once that path is chosen, affects our outcome as well. So Life, as in
Mah Jongg, is a combination of chance, choice and skill.

The beauty of Mah Jongg and Life is that even with the worst opening set of
tiles, there are several directions open to us.  But with practice and
hard-won wisdom of many games played (read ‘years lived’) we get better at
spotting the best choices to make, the most optimal paths to follow given
what we have to work with. Even the tiles themselves, with their lovely
imagery, speak of Life to me. The ‘winds’ of change, the ‘dragons’ we must
slay, the ‘flowers’ we cling to, grace notes and moments of beauty; the
circle of ‘dots’ of Life itself and the ‘cracks’ we sometimes trip on or fall into.

Like Life, Mah Jongg is never ‘fair.’ The random distribution of tiles
favors one player over the other. Some are gifted from the very outset with
clear patterns, the blessings of numerous jokers, making their game much easier,
their chance of winning much higher. But again, as in Life, skill and judgment,
patience and effort, can allow even the most mediocre of initial hands to prevail;
just as with carelessness, lack of focus or poor decision-making, the best initial
hands can fail.

Mah Jongg has taught me that as in Life, decisiveness is key. One must be able to
spot a direction early on and have the ‘leap of faith’ courage to fearlessly commit
to it, letting all tempting by paths go. One must let seemingly “good tiles” (i.e.,
clinging to two flowers or those alluring dragons) go to commit to the best potential
outcome. But even then, there have been times where a chosen path hits a dead end.
Chance fails to favor it (i.e. you’ve committed to a hand with a pair you don’t have
and realize the last tile you need now lies in the discard heap—). Then, as in life,
you do not panic, but go back to the card, dig deep and find a new path,
knowing that even though your chances of ‘winning’ have been greatly
reduced, you don’t lose hope, you don’t give up, you fight to the end.

Mah Jongg requires alertness and vigilance. Get too distracted and you’ll
miss picking up that joker on someone else’s tray when the opportunity
arises. Hesitate and you’ll miss ‘calling’ for just the right tile, losing
a critical chance to succeed. In Life, too, opportunity comes by just once
sometimes—–if we’re ‘asleep at the wheel’ it passes us by forever.

In Mah Jongg, as in Life, the anticipation of a win—-the possibility of
your choices  working out, the suspense of not knowing what will turn up
next, the  patience required as you wait and hope the tile you need will be
the next one discarded or the next one drawn—–is the key to its enjoyment.
It truly is “the journey”, as the cliché reminds us, allowing us to feel
enjoyment just in playing, even if we don’t “win.”

My rare victories in Mah Jongg, while thrilling, have reminded me that
triumph is fleeting. You start again each time with a new hand, new
circumstances. One win does not guarantee another. But, you keep playing,
keep risking, keep striving, knowing that in Mah Jongg, as in Life, each game,
each win and loss, makes you a bit better player.

P.S. – Don’t forget to watch – or record – CBS Sunday Morning tomorrow morning from 9 am to 10:30 am EST – the Mah Jongg Madness segment is scheduled to air!