Marco Polo

When I was a kid, there was never any question of whether or not I would have someone to play with, or something to do on the weekends. The reason for this? I have an unusual number of cousins. Especially in the summer, every Saturday we knew we would either be at Carowinds or going swimming. Then on Sunday there would be church and lunch at Mamaw’s house, and then usually more time with the cousins after lunch. The one closest to my age, affectionately known as Grace because she has the spiritual gift of getting hurt all the time, even if all she’s doing is walking on a flat surface, was usually the one responsible for playing with me in the pool while the older cousins and aunt’s stayed out of our zone of splash and worked on their melanoma with baby oil and SPF 4.

Sometimes we held competitions for who could hold their breath the longest, or we did flips and tricks off the diving board, or we tried to do handstands under the water. We competed to see who could touch “the bottom of the deep end.” We built little houses out of pool floats. We pretended we were Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen and did concerts from the side of the pool. We did impressions of people from church (sorry, we did, and we thought it was hilarious). We played chicken but only when adults weren’t watching to warn us that we would crack our skulls on the side of the pool and have to go to the hospital, thereby ruining the pool day. We ate Doritos and ham sandwiches and pizza and got splinters in our feet from running on the deck. But no matter how many ways we passed the time, there always came the point where we ran out of ideas and fell back on our old standby: Marco Polo. 

Just in case your childhood was more interesting than mine, and you had better games to play so you never relied on this one, Marco Polo was the game where one person in the pool had to keep their eyes closed or was blindfolded, and all the other people would scatter wherever they could, and the blindfolded person would call out, “Marco!” And then the rest of us would answer, “Polo!” And they had to find us based purely on the sound of our voice. If Marco tagged you, then you were the new Marco and they became a Polo. I truly have no idea why, but I loved this game. 

Yesterday I had to go shopping for some “adult clothes” I need for next week, and I ended up getting separated from Other Half in the South Park Mall Dillards. He called me to see where I was, and the conversation went like this: 

“Where are you?”

“Calvin Klein,” I said. 

“I’m in Calvin Klein and I don’t see you anywhere. What signs do you see around you?”

“One that says Calvin Klein. And if I turn the other way, one that says Jones New York.”

Silence. Then, “Well there must be more than one Calvin Klein section because I don’t see you anywhere.”

“Want to play Marco Polo?”



And you know what? He found me. Right in front of this super cute but way too small gray pantsuit with a Carolina blue sleeveless shirt. We finished what we needed to do, got some dinner, then went back to buy some “just in case the first one doesn’t work” outfits because, for reasons I don’t understand and God will have to make clear when I get to heaven, you can’t get COVID from shopping in the mall as long as you have a mask on, but you can get it if you set foot in a dressing room, so it’s better to spend $900 on all the contingency plans, then drive 45 minutes back to the mall and return all the rejects. Not that I’m bitter. 

I have a point, I promise. It occurred to me that right now, I am unsettled. In the past, I’ve always had some type of contingency plan, and with life being what it is at the moment, I’m flying by the seat of my pants. I read this book by Jentezen Franklin called, “Right People, Right Place, Right Plan,” and he says, “God’s plan for your life will come (often) through unexpected events that force you in a direction you would never have gone.” He goes on to talk about how, in order for you to make the necessary changes in your life, your misery has to outweigh your level of comfort, otherwise you will stick with the known even if the unknown is calling and the known is no longer serving you. He’s absolutely right, at least as far as I’m concerned.

I used to have a clear vision. I used to know what was coming next. But now, every day feels like a game of Marco Polo. I can’t see my hand in front of my face. I have no idea what’s lurking around the next corner. I make these decisions, day in and day out that seem trivial, but are they? Or am I one questionable judgement away from utter, irreparable chaos? Before my mom died, I had a sort of tentative trajectory. “Well, in 6 months, we can schedule that Disney trip. In 3 months, we should be ready to think about remodeling the bathroom. In 2 years, I should be able to apply for this or that certification professionally.” Then the rug was pulled out from under me, and I discovered how ridiculous this all is. We have zero percent control over what’s happening tomorrow, much less in 3 months or 6 months. Sometimes Other Half calls me in the afternoon to talk about what we should do for dinner so we have a plan in place to prevent the inevitable argument where I tell him a 10 minute intervals until 8 pm that I don’t know what I want, and I’m so overwhelmed by the thought of this small decision that I just say, “Look, I don’t even know what I’m doing an hour from now. Whatever you decide is fine.” 

I have no freaking clue where I am, or what I’m doing. I’m operating on the advice of Luke, the disciple, who decided to write the gospel bearing his name because, “…it seemed good also to me.” That’s it. That’s my master plan for life right now. Apply for that job? Seems like a good idea to me. Go to Paco’s Tacos for dinner? Seems like a good idea to me. Let Mary Ann get her hair streaked blue/purple/teal or let Benjamin Button stay up all night playing video games on a weekend night? Seems like a good idea to me. These decisions are my “Marco!” 

And then I sit on my hands, desperately trying not to mess anything up, while I wait for the “Polo!”

Last week, on the anniversary of my mom’s death, a friend at work brought me a book of poetry called, “All Along You were Blooming” by Morgan Harper Nichols. My favorite poem so far is about uncertainty, and how some days you feel like you’re scared of everything, but it’s OK to go afraid. Right now, I go afraid.

I’m waiting for a lot of Polo’s at this stage of my life. I don’t like it. It feels terrible actually. It feels like instead of swimming in the water, I’m trying to walk on it, one tentative step at a time. But a year ago, I never would’ve had the faith or ambition to try, so maybe it’s good for me. If you’re in TJ Maxx later and you hear a crazy woman yelling “Marco!” Don’t panic. It’s just me. I need a back up for my back up shirt, and I’m holding on by a rapidly fraying thread. But I feel alive, and that’s got to count for something. 

2 thoughts on “Marco Polo

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