When Losing a Game of Pool is Really Winning

The game was explained to me in “beginner” terms. Sink one ball at a time in any pocket. And be sure to call your intention – no slop.

I have watched enough games in family play to know that bets are made and bets are lost. I’m all about the fun. Less strategy and more laughs.

I was fortunate enough to be teamed up with Michael. The two of us against the two best players in the house. Michael read my mind – or saw that bead of sweat as I approached the table.

“Only one strategy for us – NAN.” Michael leaned in to explain. “No Analysis Necessary. Let’s take the obvious shots and just have fun.”

Our opponents were sharks. They knew the game well. Clean beautiful shots. Victories on what looked like impossible angles. It was like a pinball machine. Balls disappearing into pockets.

To really appreciate the magnitude and importance of this game you need to know the rest of the story.

It was a diagnosis nobody expected.

Melanoma. A dangerous and aggressive form of skin cancer. A war that Michael never dreamed he would have to fight. The Marines did not train him for this kind of battle.

He served our country and then eventually retired as a Chief Warrant Officer in the Marines.

Now he serves as school Principal to the children who hold the future of our country. Michael is admired and respected by both teachers and students. He is hard working, friendly and fair. Look around – you’ll see him at every school event.

The diagnosis was a punch in the stomach. A moment that knocks the wind right out of you. Difficult to handle. 

But nothing compared to the treatment – 3 rounds of chemotherapy. Liquid poison flowing through Michael’s veins to find the enemy and kill it.

Michael is not just tough – he’s Marine tough. 

But this would bring even a Marine to his knees. “The worst case of flu you can imagine,” he told me. “And exhaustion afterward like you wouldn’t believe.”

The hardest days are Mondays - the day before the treatment will begin again. A terrible dread knowing what he will have to endure tomorrow. He checks his watch frequently – knowing time for another treatment is closing in minute by minute.

Yet here we are without a worry in the world - playing a game of pool. Family gathered together in the beautiful pine trees of Flagstaff, Arizona. 

It was a gathering nobody thought Michael would make. We thought the exhaustion would not allow such a trip.

But Michael thought differently. “It’s all about setting goals,” he told me. “I need normalcy. To get on an airplane like other people and then just go to a restaurant and visit with family.” 

The goal and the vision of it rescued Michael from days of darkness. 

There are more goals. 

He will return to school to lead and inspire those teachers and students who are cheering for him to beat this.

And so we played and talked about positive things. Hope. 

A friend of Michael’s recently gave him a Bible. He’s reading – pondering some of the words again. 

Words of light.

It is down to the final moments of the game.

A couple of missed shots. The opposing team took control and cleared the table.

“Great game,” we all said. 

An understatement.

Michael had lost the game of pool. But he had really won the most important game of all.

The game of life.