When I was a child, I liked and hated the game Monopoly. It was interesting and exciting, but it was also cutthroat, ruthless, competitive, and often seemed to involve cheating by the banker. My vague memories are mostly hurt feelings and distrust. So when my younger daughter Z pulled my ancient Monopoly set up from the basement and asked me to teach her how to play, I agreed with reluctance and trepidation.
My older daughter E noticed us playing after an hour or so and asked to join. Of course, E played at a significant disadvantage since she joined late. My trepidation increased. E was paying lots of rent but collecting hardly anything. The hurt feelings and distrust would erupt soon. I played grimly on, trying to act relaxed and cheerful as my dread mounted.
At one point, I couldn’t afford to pay rent to Z, so I mortgaged some properties. My daughters were horrified. “No, Mummy!” they kept repeating, “you don’t have to do that! We will give you some money!!” But, see, that’s not how The Game works, so I kept refusing their money. “It’ll be fine, honest!” I said, confused and unsure how to handle their anxious concern. I tried to be Nonanxious Presence Parent, modeling that I don’t mind losing The Game. They were equally confused. Why wouldn’t I accept their help? We played on.
The next thing I knew, Z (who had most of the money by now) had begun trying secretly to slip money to E and myself. We caught her doing it and tried to return the money, but she was relentless. She declared a New Rule: anyone who can secretly slip any amount of money to another player gets $5 from the bank.
Suddenly, the game became utterly hilarious. The subterfuge was incredible. E (who was mostly broke) kept trying to slip me $5 and $10 bills, and Z kept trying to give the two of us every other denomination, even including $500 bills.
As we played on, the constriction around my heart began to ease. “Maybe this will be okay,” I thought, tentatively allowing myself to hope.
Then came another twist: Z, seeing that her older sister didn’t have a lot of money, told her not to pay the full rent on a property she landed on. “Just give me $50,” she said cheerfully. “Or whatever you feel like.” I was stunned. Then it kept happening. We both decided to sell E some properties cheap, so she’d have better rental opportunities. We all merrily traded so we’d have matching colors, bought houses, and just… paid whatever rent we felt like we could afford, no matter where we landed.
We played every day for a week. The Game never ended because anytime one of us started to run low, the other two would balance the system by paying her more and charging her less… and, of course, slip her lots of gifts. At one point, Z was supposed to pay the bank $50 for something or other, and she cheerfully decided the bank should pay each of us $50 instead.
I kept thinking and thinking about how The Game would have ended long ago if we had played by The Rules. The Rules involve a lot of chance and, in our case, inequality from the start. I thought a lot about how in real life, oligarchy has fixed The Game to keep most of us players under its heel. Only in real life, the result isn’t only hurt feelings and distrust. It’s poverty, illness, deprivation, trauma, and death. I wondered how many of us have been trained by Monopoly to accept Oligarchy as inevitable and acceptable, to laud politicians who grind us less cruelly as heroes. In Monopoly, once the other players are too poor to play, The Game ends, and the winner can’t make any more money. In real life, Oligarchy relies on an endless supply of slaves to keep it going. I wondered how our society would look if my daughters could take the reins and cheerfully make everything fair.
The only hurt feelings were entirely my fault. At one point, Z had redistributed so much of her wealth that she was feeling a bit of a pinch. She landed on a property of E’s and jokingly handed her $1 in rent. I said I thought she should pay more than that; unfortunately, some of my childhood wound must have crept into my voice. Z immediately became tearful and said she was done playing. To use a phrase Z coined as a toddler, I “broke her fun.”
Of course I apologized. “I hurt your feelings, didn’t I?” I asked. “After how hard you have tried to make the game feel fun and fair for everyone, I made you feel like I don’t trust you to do what is right and kind. You were only joking, and I made you feel like I thought you were trying to cheat your sister, when you weren’t. Right? I’m so very, very, very sorry,” I said. “This game was a horrible experience for me as a child. I am still carrying wounds from that, and my wounds caused me to speak in a way that was wrong. I will try extra hard never to do that again. I want to tell you how much you two have healed me by playing this game with me in such a loving, happy way.”
The girls were, of course, sad to hear how painful my childhood experience had been, and touched and proud that they had helped me find healing. Hugs, snuggles, and lots more playing ensued.
One last anecdote: One time when I landed in jail, E handed me her “Get out of jail free” card. After that, if one of us had a card, we always gave it to anyone who landed in jail. Until the very last time we played— I landed in jail, and none of us had that card. You know what happened:
My daughters went to jail with me. They did not pass Go, they did not collect $200. They piled their tokens on top of mine in the little jail cell, and then they hatched an exciting plot to break us all out. You can, I think, imagine the laughter we shared. The next morning, I found the following note on my toothbrush:
Jesus said, “Let the little children come unto me, and forbid them not, for unto such as these belongs the Kin-dom of JustPeace.” (Mt 19:14) and “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the Kin-dom of JustPeace.” (Mt 18:3). My children freed me from more than one jail, didn’t they? There are so many kinds of prison in our broken world. Can we listen to the wisdom of divine beings, and unlearn our cages of fear, distrust, and greed? Can we accept the Healing Grace that is offered to us so freely and abundantly? I say, let’s do it. This is OUR Game. Let’s play it right.
Trelawney Grenfell-Muir teaches courses about Sex, Dating, Marriage, and Work in the Religion and Theological Studies Department at Merrimack College and about Cross Cultural Conflict in the Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A Senior Discussant at the Religion and the Practices of Peace Initiative at Harvard University, she holds an M.Div. from the Boston University School of Theology with a concentration in Religion and Conflict, and a Ph.D. in Conflict Studies and Religion with the University Professors Program at Boston University. She currently writes articles, book chapters, and liturgical resources about feminist, nature-based Christianity.