Game of life is truly about about how you play

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 29, 2004

An admissions adviser for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, talking on National Public Radio the other morning, called the stress that high school students and their parents go through when participating in the college application process "a public health crisis."

Crisis? Really? Come on.

Like the little boy who cried, "Wolf!" to get attention when there was no real threat, politicians, social engineers and every do-gooder with a cause slap on the crisis badge to draw attention to their particular crusade.

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The college adviser's "crusade" apparently is to get parent groups across the country to pay her for sage suggestions like letting the kids write their own essays and fill out their own forms.

The word crisis is used these days to describe everything from the mess that is the Social Security system to not being able to pass out candy canes at public schools. Granted, one's proximity to a problem influences whether it's really a crisis or merely an annoyance that someone else is experiencing. If it's not your body that's being operated on, it's real easy to say that an appendectomy is routine surgery.

Life today is no more fraught with crisis-level challenges than it ever was. Existence has been a struggle since Eve successfully tempted Adam with that piece of fruit. As humans, we walk a precarious path. It's called life, and it's just a bowl of cherries - filled with pits.

The game of life is tough to play. It's not easy, and it's not fair. Crime, war, troubled youth, strained relationships and tough economic times are all potential stops on the way around the board, and some players land on them more than others.

You roll the dice and keep moving.

Read a daily newspaper or watch the nightly news, and after a while you want to denounce "civilization" and go live in the woods somewhere. But what makes the lead story of the nightly news or banner headlines on the front page are life's exceptions.

There are far more loving mothers in this country than depression-laden, homicidal ones; far more supportive, nurturing fathers than responsibility-dodging ones; far more well-adjusted youth than maladjusted ones; far more functioning families than dysfunctional ones.

Alas, happy endings do not headlines make. The screw-ups and the screwballs grab top billing. Average, normal people mostly go from birth to death without fanfare or controversy. To their credit, the editors of my newspaper recently started an obituary page feature that heralds the life of an average Joe or Jane.

Every day, in every city and town across this great land, good things happen. Taxpayer dollars are spent wisely by city councils and school boards that have their constituents' best interests at heart. Children are learning from dedicated and creative educators. Doctors and nurses save lives, while researchers and scientists develop new medicines and machines to help them. People everywhere volunteer countless hours to increase someone else's chances at playing the game a little better.

All too often, however, these moments of hope and optimism go unnoticed, never making it beyond the immediate parties involved and into the public eye.

Oh, the stories in which someone prevails despite overwhelming odds occasionally can make it on TV, especially if there's video footage. Unfortunately, the sordid sagas - Michael Jackson, Scott Peterson, Dena Schlosser - are the ones that get repeated.

The stories of average people winning at the game of life often aren't told because, sadly, average people won't pay to read or watch reports about people just like themselves.

That's life, too.

Jill "J.R." Labbe is a senior editorial writer and columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Readers may write to her at 400 W. 7th Street, Fort Worth, Texas 76102, or via e-mail at