Life is Like a Game of Boggle

By Lisa Sugarman

So here’s a thought: Imagine inventing a catch phrase. Something no one’s ever said. It’s gotta feel amazing, right? Like the Sports Center guy who came up with “Cool as the other side of the pillow.” He was the first. THE first. Like Neil Armstrong being the first guy ever to stand on the moon. Just imagine it.

Well, that’s my dream. And since I always tell my kids to dream big, I’m going for it…

If Forrest Gump’s momma can say, “Life is like a box of chocolates,” then I don’t feel too quirky saying I think life is even more like a game of Boggle. Just give it time and it’ll be even bigger than “If life gives you lemons make lemonade.”

I know this all sounds like a reach, but I want you to know that I didn’t just randomly start thinking about this Boggle thing in the 8-items-or-less line at Crosby’s. I actually had a death in the family last month and it was such a powerful experience for me that it made it strikingly clear how uniquely we all experience life. In exactly the same way we play Boggle.

You know the game—it’s the one with the three-minute egg timer and the tray of plastic alphabet cubes. Hasn’t changed since the early 70s. It’s got a simple point: make as many different words as you can in three minutes.

What makes it so unique, though, is that even though we’re all using the same letters, we’re all seeing them from different angles and putting them together in a different way. I’ve played with a whole group of people and not one of us had the same word. It’s uncanny.

This simple little game epitomizes, in almost every way, how differently we all see the same life we’re all living. Granted, we all have unique nuances to our lives that make our circumstances different from the next guy. But we’re all living under the same roof, so to speak, and we’ve all got the basics like health, family, work, money, and love that are pretty common denominators. So let’s put it this way, we’ve all got enough of the same stuff going on that I think it’s fair to say that we’re all playing off the same “board.”

See, we’re big Boggle players in my family. Big. So the game is a really easy thing for me to relate with. Put that with the fact that I’ve always connected with things in a more visual way than a theoretical one, and you’ve got the perfect analogy. At least for me. (And for my Boggle-happy husband, Dave, who thought this idea would make the best column ever.)

It was while I watched my mother’s older brother die in hospice last month that the idea occurred to me. Strange timing, I know, but hospice lends itself to a lot of downtime and most of that is spent inside your own head. And since my family tends to travel in packs, it wasn’t too surprising to see at least 10 of us in my uncle’s hospital room at any given time. Each one of us watching him die.

I know this sounds morbid but you have to trust me and hang in there.

Even though we were all watching the same thing, we were all seeing something very different. Some of us saw my uncle’s dying as a relief, a way for him to be at piece from the pain, while others saw it as a devastating loss. Some cried bitterly, while the rest of us laughed uncontrollably; and some just reflected. We were all playing off the same game tray and yet the way we each played was so different.

It seemed so obvious because in Boggle, like life, we’re all playing on the same board at the same time with the same pieces, but we all see the board in a completely different way. Four different people may be playing off the same 16 letters but they all come up with a completely different list of words.

Life is all about the way we perceive and react to things.

For instance, while my husband might think that jumping out of a perfectly good airplane is whacked, I might think it’s the most awesomest thing eva.

Take this season’s Opening Day at Fenway. It’s a simple and straightforward example of what I mean. There was the Red Sox perspective and (hack, hack, hack, excuse me) the Yankee perspective. A 9-7 win by Boston means it’s Miller Time on Yawkey Way. While a 7-9 loss by New York means a depressing Monday in Manhattan.

It all depends on which side of the board you’re on.

Lisa Sugarman lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at OR read her blog at


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