Have you heard the story about the golf course in Calcutta? I think it goes something like this: After colonising India, the British in their wisdom decided that Calcutta needed a golf course. They built a beautiful course in a great location. However once opened, business was threatened as monkeys would invade the course, pick up the balls, play with them, lob them somewhere and run off. Various methods were tried in order to get rid of the pesky monkeys (high fences, luring them elsewhere with food, trapping them) but the monkeys kept returning for the pleasure of pinching the balls. Eventually a novel rule was introduced, usual rules of play applied except that if a ball was taken by a monkey, you had to play the ball from where they dropped it!
This could be fabulous luck if the monkey took it nearer to your desired location, or total disaster. The golfers were livid. This wasn’t fair!
This unique game and the reactions of the players soon became a metaphor for life. Sometimes, no matter how well we approach things, there is a factor of random, indiscriminate luck that we have no control over. In discussions with Kirsty Williams, psychologist at the Cancer Specialist Services, Derby Hospitals, she told me this story as she sat with me while I was untangling my many reactions to my cancer diagnosis.
You can imagine how my heart sank when my life and work, which I felt I had built up over several decades, were completely thrown off balance. It felt as if every time I took a shot at picking myself back up and moving forward, something would come along and throw it off whack again. The cancer diagnosis felt like the worst of a series of the ball not ending up where I’d sent it.
But there is another part of this story that isn’t always emphasised. It doesn’t make the golfer a poor golfer, it affects outcome but it doesn’t mean they play less well. All the skills I have built up, the knowledge, resources, the skills, I can still use them to play each ball.
As I approach this next shot, I am really disappointed and frustrated as I look realistically at where the ball has been dropped. It’s completely unfair and such rotten luck, it reduces my chances of completing the game in style, my life expectancy is drastically shortened, my projects – some half completed, some only just begun and some only an idea in my head – must be abandoned for now. My focus is in a different direction and my sight line obscured. ‘Och, Miriam, that’s bollocks.’ Said my Scottish brother (a spot on observation) when I told him the latest. Those around me watch me go for the next shot with their hearts in their mouths, their hopes low and with tears. They will support me until the end but they now doubt they are backing a winner.
it’s my ball, it’s not me
They are however backing and supporting someone who is very experienced, skilled and wise. I do know what I’m doing, I do understand emotional territory, stress and grief. All of that skill has not gone because the ball was dropped in a really poor place. I can play this shot and though it might not get me back to where I think I should be or even back to where I was, it will be a good shot. It will smack of me.
I can navigate life’s dramas and traumas with my eyes closed (literally sometimes), this is my skills set. I’m truly and utterly pissed off about where the monkey dropped my ball, believe me. But it’s my ball, it’s not me. I can still do my best with what I’m given and my best isn’t bad. It ain’t over till it’s over and I intend to play each shot from here with style and grace.
Hoping your day goes well, that your balls are dropped favourably (!) and that you can enjoy quality of life over outcome.