Who knew there were rules? Or ways of organizing the court so that we are to go through particular hoops, first, then others, then the rest? We pumped the hoops into the ground, white lost in the shadows and sun of a mid-June mid-afternoon, and each person gave, though not in so much an orderly fashion, their own rendition of how one plays this gamed called "croquet". One told all of us she was forced to learn golf in her one year of public high school (this is after she told us she'd never learned to play croquet, and I told her it was a bit like mini-golf. One told us croquet was her "one sort of happy memory from childhood". Her wife had been a bit of a rock star in croquet, back in the day (and, in fact, she did beat all of us). Another (and I) had no particular ideas about how to play it, so we set it up according to the map inside the portable package, only without measuring, and apparently made a court twice the size one usually plays. My only information on playing croquet came from watching *Heathers* about sixty gagillion times in high school. I asked them all if they have ever seen Heathers, and they all shrugged at me. One woman asked "is that a fantasy film?," then interupted herself to say it sounded like a nature special. I haven't seen Heathers in years, so I tried to remember - Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, some annoying chicks, a pre-Columbine school ruinage plot. "Winona Ryder is so *annoying*", one woman said as she went to hit her ball yet another fruitful time. One of the players continually cleaned up the "court", and most of us groaned about the task we'd set out for ourselves when we'd barely gotten through the first few hoops.
We made jokes - about kicking each other out of the court, about whether or not aspiring Bodhisattvas can be competitive (1/2 of us have taken our Bodhisattva vows), insider Buddhist jokes. It wasn't very Heathers at all. The party had started with me showing up unsteady, sad and filled with a strange grief that had strangled a chunk of my days previous to this day, and I realized upon arrival that even here, with my sangha, I felt, I often feel, what I and a couple of others later called "knee-jerk social anxiety" - it kicks in before you even can convince it you don't need it - "No - these are Buddhists - they are ok with feelings and neurosis!." We laughed and cried over this - how I could actually say to someone I like a great deal but know very little, when asked "How are You?" "Well, I'm here. Pretty shitty, though." What party allows that? What kind of re-training will it take for me to be this honest? A lot, is my guess, and I'll still be anxious the whole way.
In the end, we played half a court and bent all the rules as much as we wanted to. A bevy of Boy Scouts toting canoes past us only vaguely interrupted the game, but the strong sun of midday really is what broke us down - without the shade of June clouds, we were perilously unprepared, and we pulled up court, packing the balls and pins and mallets back into my travel croquet set. Toward the end, we groaned - "Isn't it over yet?" "You mean she *didn't* make it through?" "C'mon, you're supposed to win so we can be DONE," but we were all smiling the whole time. That's the best we can do, I suppose. Feel shitty and grin about how funny it is that we can feel that way and still show up. Laugh at how we dread games we set up ourselves - games we consciously or unconsciously decide to play, engage in, invite others to join, and then quit halfway - whether mental or croquet.