Anyone who has been a kid, had kids, or had grandkids — even if you were just the aunt or uncle who “borrowed” a kid — has probably played Chutes and Ladders. It is an infuriating game to say the least, with all the climbing up and sliding back down, but in the end it is sort of enjoyable. Not as fun as say, “Feed Me Bacon” or “The Biscuit Game” (yeah, I made those up) but there are worse ways to occupy our time. And like so many things, it is a metaphor for life, so it has that going for it.

The “original” game was called Snakes and Ladders, and was based upon the ancient Indian (as in India) game of Moksha Patam. The game was based around the philosophical concepts of Karma and Kama, destiny and desire, and was an allegory for life and everything in it. Europeans loosely interpreted this, changing the game to represent good and bad behavior and either rewards or penalties. Eventually the “snakes” became “chutes.” Apparently the chute was entertaining and harmlessly took you back a few steps rather than the snake literally knocking you down a few pegs after biting through your best pair of burlap peasant britches. The ladders, of course, represented wonderful opportunities which improved your life, raised your consciousness, or otherwise brightened your day, week or month.

The most telling thing about this game, regardless of the past or current version, was that there are always more chute/snakes than ladders. This is supposed to represent that there are always, mildly put, more difficult or bad things in life than easy or good things. And whether you are striving for piety in an impious world or simply trying avoid being snake bit, it is probably a fair assessment. There are more things in the world that can take you down than there are those that will lift you up. Most of this, fortunately, can be at least somewhat regulated. We just have to be careful where we place our feet.

Life is not, nor has it ever been, a level playing field. We all have advantages and disadvantages to our health, for instance; it's called by a variety of things from DNA to genetic disposition or whatever buzzword the kids are using these days (just not physicality, please — that is just wrong). Some of us gain weight easily, and others lose the same weight easily. Some can run and jump like the gazelle, whereas others are more likely to lumber like a rhino. But quick or slow, big or little, we all come across those ladders we can use to make ourselves healthier — and we can all step on the snake and get bitten three times while sliding back four spaces.

The thing to remember is that, given that both are there, they become a known quantity. All we can really do, and all we really need to worry about, is finding the ladders and avoiding the snake/chutes. We can do this by paying attention to what is going on in our bodies, and that will help more than we actually think it will — good food, good exercise and an overall healthier lifestyle eliminate some of the clutter between us and our “ladder of success.” And as a side benefit, when we eliminate all that unhealthy clutter, it also makes the snake/chutes easier to avoid as well; not to mention reducing the recovery time when we do get “bitten.”

And we all will. More than once. Even Olympic athletes catch the common cold; but they get over it much faster and move on to the next ladder. If you can leg-press 500 pounds at the gym, that's amazing — but it doesn't mean you won't ever hurt those muscular mountains of movement. Things happen, as they say, and there is a word for it even; it's life. We just need to make more ladders than what comes with the game, or simply quit and go play Candyland or something.

So, if you have been climbing the ladder of lettuce and free-range okra on your way to a better life and suddenly a “Snickers Snake” takes a bit or two out of you and shoots you down and the scale up, don't give up. They will always grow more lettuce and okra, and the setback you feel is probably not that bad. And though I would avoid the snakes, “chutes” can be fun once in a while. We just don't want to live on Splash Mountain.

When we allow ourselves to become so bogged down with the form and the routine of things like our journey to a healthier life, we run the danger of the reward seeming more like punishment. The entire goal is to make our lives better, not bitter; denial is a hard road that yields indifferent results. Work at it, eat right, and enjoy life once in a while. Climb the ladders and avoid the snakes, and along the way try to remember that neither is permanent but simply a part of the lives we live.

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