Yes it’s true- I play Maj!
It is Wednesday afternoon at 12:30. You can call my home phone but there will be no answer. You can try me on my cell phone but you will likely be transported directly to voice mail. If you look on my desk calendar you will notice that this Wednesday afternoon is clear of any commitments. In fact, the Wednesday afternoons for the past 7 years are devoid of meetings, appointments, or obligations of any sort. No doctors, hairdressers, personal trainers, auditions, school meetings; theater meetings, rehearsals, errands or home repair service calls have been scheduled. It is Wednesday afternoon and me and four other fantastic, smart, dynamic women are playing mahjong. Don’t bother us- we are busy.
Mahjong is an ancient tile game that originated in China commonly played by four players (we have 5 in our group in case one of us can’t make it each week). It is similar to the more modern Western game of Rummy Cube and is a game that requires some skill, strategy, calculation and most importantly a palpable degree of chance. I will not bore you with the detail of the exact historical birth of the game nor try to instruct you on how to play. We have Google and Utube whose explanations will be far more helpful in instructing you in the nuts and bolts of the game.
You may already know or will at least discover in your Google search that there is a whole Mahjong culture. People associate the game with older women who “lunch” together and wile the afternoon away gossiping. Their manicured hands skillfully shuffle the tiles as they discuss what cruise they will be taking over the holidays (there are, by the way, special Mahjong cruises and no I have not been on one!) While we do eat lunch together, my Maj game is nothing like the stereotypical image. We do share lunch but we eat out of plastic containers and straight out of the bag of chips or jellybeans. We often come dressed in sweat pants and t-shirts not having bothered to shower or attempt to look presentable. It is a social gathering no doubt, but it could not be further from the country club image that people often think of when they hear about our regular game.
The game of Mahjong, at least for my 4 girl friends and me, represents a giant time out in our very busy and often stressed out lives as women, wives, mothers, professionals and human beings. We gather each Wednesday religiously and play a game that, once you become familiar with the rules, is really quite simple and does not require much thought. It allows us to focus on our game tiles and then to just talk. And talk we do- about everything under the sun. From our relationships with our husbands or boyfriends, to our children, to diets, dinner menus, the situation in the Middle East, the next election and everything else you can think of. We have a mantra in Mahjong- “what is said in Maj stays in Maj:” and those words have become sacred. We have created an environment around this Chinese tile game that is safe for us share our triumphs and joys as well as our heart aches. We ask advice, give advice (sometimes completely unsolicited) and connect to each other like sisters, lovers, mothers, and of course friends.
I have found that the game of Mahjong curiously often imitates life. Like in the tile game, we attempt to use our personal and intellectual skills to direct events. Similarly, in life as with the tiles, we strategize and calculate, weighing decisions about what is the correct move is. In life and in the game, sometimes we feel good about what is happening, other times we wish we had more time to contemplate. Sometimes we feel bold and take a risk, we play aggressively and on the offence. Other times we feel helpless and simply play defensively. Sometimes we regret our decisions and wish we could take back a move. However, we find in both the game and in life that often we have acted to late, that it is someone else’s turn and that we must change our actions to survive.
There is much to do in this game of life. Each of us yearns to create and influence and change the world- all worthwhile if not overwhelming goals. But we should not forget to take a time out. My Wednesday afternoons are a sacred time to stop and breathe, regroup and gain perspective. Sure playing a Chinese tile game every Wednesday afternoon may seem like an antiquated activity for some older housewife biddies. But we know better! This world might just be a better place if all of us let go for a few hours once a week and play with tiles.