I have this game called Story Cubes.

Well, most people wouldn’t think of it as a game, but it was developed by Gamewright. It’s basically a set of dice, except cooler because there are black and white images etched on the sides rather than uniform dots denoting quantities. The fifty-four pictures on my collection of Story Cubes depict anything, really—a bare footprint, a monster sneaking up on a boy, a waxing crescent moon.

Or waning.

Depending on how the dice roll.

My sister gave me the game last year, but I came across Story Cubes first during an internship with an afterschool program that serves families in a low-income neighborhood of Grand Rapids. Many of the parents had migrated from Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, or Nicaragua—attempts, I believe, to change the trajectory of their stories. Or their children’s, at the very least. The families live in cramped houses. The parents work long hours. Some students start kindergarten already behind because they don’t speak English.

One afternoon, two kids were rolling Story Cubes on a windowsill and taking turns crafting an elaborate story with pirates and treasure maps and laser beam flashlights.

The game’s tagline is “let your imagination roll wild,” but the thing about crafting a tale with Story Cubes is that your story’s elements are limited by the hand you roll. You only have so much control. You don’t choose how the dice shake out, fall, and roll. You don’t choose whether the moon is waxing or waning, whether you roll the footprint or the monster. You can only choose how to respond. What to create from the images the game deals you.

A few months ago, I was talking with someone I had just met. Our dialogue was following the typical pattern of new acquaintances: What we did, where we lived, what we’ve done, where we’ve been.

“Are you happy with how things shook out?” he asked me.

Shook out.

It implies the understanding that, despite plans and actions, the dice don’t always align.

Life is a game of Story Cubes. With things less fantastical than monsters chasing boys, but sometimes just as horrible. That cliché anonymous quote “you are the author of your own story” floats around the internet and decorates pillowcases and walls, but I suspect there was never a time when humans existed as stars in the universe, looked down upon the world, and told God, “I want that life. That one. Right there.”

No one chooses the arms who cradle them. Or when, or how, or where.

We are co-authors of our own story, at best.

I find comfort in that.

A story crafted by one student is good, but a second student helping spin the tale is a game-changer. It’s not about who has the better idea or the better roll of the dice; it’s about imaginations working together to build a better story. The pirate becomes a Viking dressed for espionage. The treasure map becomes a fatal trap set by aliens, who can only be vanquished through vaporization from a laser beam flashlight.

Just like Story Cubes, humans only have so much control over their own life—and it only takes one conversation to recognize that no human’s opportunities and resources are the same. And sure, there’s something to be said about resilience and grit and pushing around the dice because fate dealt you a monster chasing a boy, when you just wanted an apple.

But damn, it’s hard sometimes.

Another hand helps.

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