The Voice called out to me: "Life is a game!"

I was only a baby, then.

The Voice then showed me the game: It was a large, odd-looking contraption, not unreminiscent of what I would later learn -- I was only a baby, remember -- was called a pinball machine.

It consisted of a large rectangular table, about four feet in width, nine feet in length, and a foot deep, with a display case rising from the far end of the table, and eight ropes hanging from the side of the table closest to me.

On the bitter end of the ropes dangling before me, stopper knots had been tied tight to prevent the ropes from slipping back into the holes in the table from which they protruded. Inside the table itself -- though this could not have been known to me -- the ropes went through a vastly, inconceivably complicated series of blocks, tethers, and other odd fairleads and gadgets. After being woven through this perplexing machinery, the ropes led up behind the display case, and around a final pulley to the front, where they hung in full view. On the end of each rope was a weight.

Eight weights, hanging down, at gradually ascending heights. The first weight on the left nearly touched the bottom of the display case. The eighth weight on the right kissed the top. The others stair-stepped evenly between them.

When the player pulled one of the eight ropes, the height of the weights would change. But here was the thing: inside the machinery of the game, the ropes were not only woven around each other, but were also connected to each other in such a way that one rope would always affect the height of at least two weights. Pulling rope #2 would make weight #2 rise... but it would also make weight #5 dip slightly. Or lowering this one would also lower that one but raise the other, and so on.

The complexity was staggering.

"How do I win?" I asked the Voice.

"If you can align the eight weights perfectly, so no one is above or below another, then you have won the game of life, and will enjoy happiness and contentment beyond your wildest dreams!"

I was only a baby then. But I got started.

At first, my efforts were clumsy, wild, without reason. The weights would bob up and down like buoys on a stormy sea. But I worked at it. I had vowed from the very beginning that this game would not beat me. What else was there to do, anyway?

I worked at it, and I studied it, and I kept notes, and tested hypotheses, and studied some more and tested some more and tried and tried and tried. And I grew up with the game, too. No longer a baby, I could see things more clearly, and with a keener view. The years passed as I struggled with the ropes, honing my skill, picking up new subtleties of the game as all the while, the sun rose and set, rose and set.

I became a master. I wielded the ropes with the dexterity and grace of a concert pianist in the middle of a furious vigoroso. Weights seemed to accordion and flow with my very thoughts, the ropes themselves mere extensions of my mind, myself. The game was second nature.

I could line up four weights in my sleep. Five, maybe I'd need a cup of coffee first. Six required some serious concentrated effort. Seven... seven, was tough. Seven took days. Sometimes weeks and months, and on one particular occasion, a little over two years. But it was always worth it, seeing those glorious weights all lined up, that eighth one a mere centimeter away, begging to be put in its place.

Tenuously, I would grab the eighth rope. All it needed was an almost infinitesimal nudge, and I would be called home to my birthright of happiness and peace. Finally, I could rest.

I would pull as gently as a whisper. The eighth weight would lock into place. I would wait for the Voice to return, to give me my prize.

And then I would notice that in that last little tug, the other seven weights has just barely worked themselves out of line.

And then I would scream. I would scream, cry, and clench my fists, and with all of the hate and strength I had, would punch and kick and assault this maddening, devilish machine until my hands and feet were bloody, and pain engulfed my body and mind in whole. The game remained upright, in working condition, always. The eight weights hung there, just a little bit out of kilter, always.

So I would start over. Always.

Then one day, I just gave up.

In a fit of exasperation and defiance, I untied the stopper knots in the ends of the ropes, letting them unravel back into the machine, unwinding through the impenetrable maze inside the contraption, as the weights, robbed of their support, crashed down.

Then I turned away, went through a door, and walked into the light of the world.

Inside the game, all eight weights sat at the bottom of the display case, perfectly aligned, no one above or below another.