“Life always meant something to my father. He was so serious about it that he walked joyfully on the earth.” The Book of Rhino
James T. Kirk was the only Starfleet cadet that outwitted the Kobayashi Maru. In this particular training exercise, a Federation starship, the Kobayashi Maru is stranded in the neutral zone bordering the Klingon Empire. If another starship attempts a rescue, thereby crossing into the neutral zone, there will be interstellar war. On the other hand, staying out of the neutral zone means certain death for the crew of the Kobayashi Maru. When Kirk participated in the exercise, he saved the crew and avoided war. He cheated. He justified his actions by stating that he did not believe in either-or, no-win situations.
My father did not believe in either-or situations; to him, there was always a third alternative. This was apparent in how he lived Life. He did not consider that Life was either a comedy or a tragedy. He did not see them as mutually exclusive. He was seriously joyful and joyfully serious.
He believed that Life was hard and that Life was good. Because of his worldview, he devoted just as much time to Life’s small absurdities as to its weighty matters. He found value in the insignificant as well that the significant. Whether for sorrow or joy, everything was grist for the mill.
One time a wasp got stuck inside the bathroom window. Rather than kill it, my father tamed it. With patience and a little sugar water, my father coaxed the wasp onto his finger. The wasp stayed there while my father took it outside. He was so thrilled that he got a wasp to ride on his finger that he showed it to the next-door neighbor.
Why did he do that? Why take the time to tame a wasp when it would have been quicker to kill it? It was because my father delighted in the little things. Knowing my father, he was probably working on a project – his accounts, the yard, the car – when he encountered the wasp. However seriously he regarded the work of life, he also appreciated its frivolities. He recognized the wasp as an opportunity for an amusing diversion, but he also respected the wasp's right to live.
Once in a while, my father would suddenly stop and announce, “I’m going to tell myself a joke.” He would keep quiet for several seconds and then burst out laughing – a great, joyous, horsey laugh. He never told us what the joke was but it didn’t matter. We always laughed with him.
I thought about my father and the Kobayashi Maru recently after reading a plot outline for a novel. The novel was set in post World War III America replete with bombed out cities, flesh-eating zombies, and roving bands of survivors and/or marauders. It all sounded pretty grim. I wondered if there would be any room for a little humor or perhaps an unspoken joke. (By the way, I am not talking about Schadenfreude – I don’t relate to that kind of amusement.) I am referring to having a sense of humor even in times of high drama, even during an apocalypse. I think if I were to ever write a serious novel about serious things done by serious people, I would have to infuse it with joy. I would cheat the Kobayashi Maru – just like my father did.
What are other Kobayashi Maru situations that you have heard or read about or experienced? Is it really cheating to find a third alternative?