It has taken me years to finally see the Broadway play “The Gin Game”, a Pulitzer prize winning play by D.L. Coburn. It has been performed many times over the course of the last 35 years. Famous actors such as Jessica Tandy, Hume Cronyn, Julie Harris, Charles Durning, Dick van Dyck, Mary Tyler Moore and countless others have starred in it. Speaking of famous actors, I was privileged to see it being performed by Cicely Tyson and James Earl Jones. It is not a comedy in a traditional sense, but rather a bittersweet journey into aging, friendship, and memory. It centers around a card game – gin rummy – as a metaphor for life, taking place on the porch of a seedy nursing home. Its leading and only characters are a man named Weller Martin and a woman called Fonsia Dorsey. Throughout the play, as each hand of gin is played, the audience begins to discover lots of things about their life.
Fonsia Dorsey is a very self-righteous lady, while Weller Martin is a man who has encountered a lifetime of defeats. This continues as he cannot win a game of gin rummy against Fonsia, leading to frustration and anger; yet another defeat. In the end, it touches the heart on many levels, and while there is humor in the sadness, we see two people who remain locked in their loneliness and prisoners of their past. Weller is a man who sees life in terms of winning and losing and is bitter because he seems to come up short. The prim and proper Fonsia is a fragile and abandoned victim of her own inability to break free of her self-righteous, embittered attitude that continues to grow in her old age.
It is interesting how this play comes to my mind when I am eagerly looking at Thanksgiving, a uniquely American holiday that I love. Finding ways to be thankful makes life worth living. It seems to me that, as we grow older life becomes more difficult and things like youth, ambition, and things we held dear in the past fall away. The future is not as open as it once was. On the other hand, there is a wise appreciation that grows out of your life when you treasure every day. The problem in “The Gin Game” is that its characters have become rigid and set in their ways, unchanging and unwilling to adapt to a different time and set of circumstances. They are victimized by their past.
To me, one of the keys to life that will unlock the door to happiness is flexibility – the ability to look at life with new eyes, an open mind, and a willingness to change or adapt. Dinosaurs died because they couldn’t adapt to a changing environment. I find pieces of myself that are resistant to change, and I am sure some things about me will never change and shouldn’t. One of those things that has saved my life has been a willingness to appreciate others and the fact that I am living in a wonderful time in a world that continues to astound me. The word appreciation literally means “sensitive awareness”. Today I don’t see many people feeling very thankful. They always see what isn’t there rather than what is there.
“The Gin Game” concludes with two bitter old people who couldn’t quite come to terms with their life and to open the door to allow the other in. In the end, they can’t express in thankful terms their appreciation of each other. No matter how old we are, we need to have the awareness of our past, loaded with good memories and even difficult ones, a present filled with people we love, and a future that awaits us, even as we take our last breath.
I can’t wait to be at God’s altar on Thanksgiving Eve before I celebrate the day with my family to give thanks for the tender mercies that make up my life. I hope to see you there with a grateful heart.