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En Passant, Knowing Your Place and Breaking Rules

I once got in a debate with my grandfather about the rules of chess. Specifically, he would execute En Passant when I would attempt to move past his advancing pawn. At the time I thought I knew the rules of chess, but it seems I’d never fully grasped the rules the pawn plays by. It wasn’t until I took the time to learn chess at a deeper level that I realized he was right all along. And I can see him winking at me in my mind.

For those who don’t play the game, a pawn may advance one square forward, can’t move past a piece that blocks its forward advance until that piece moves and may capture another piece diagonally forward only. Simple. And then they added another rule to help speed up the game a bit, allowing you to move every pawn two squares forward on its initial move only. Well, this created a problem as well, for if an opponent’s pawn had advanced to a point where your move two squares forward eliminated their ability to capture your pawn in it’s forward diagonal move, you were essentially stealing the already limited power from the opponent’s pawn.

En Passant, French for “in passing“, is a rule that allows the opponent to say “not so fast!” (Well, really they would say “en passant“) and execute the move of putting their pawn onto your square where your recently deceased pawn had once been. It’s a way of telling you not to get too far ahead of yourself or you’ll pay the consequences.

And there lies the dark side to En Passant: It’s reminding the pawns of the world to know their place, to not get ahead of themselves or they’ll suffer the consequences. En Passant was invented long before democracy, and pawns generally knew their place and skated their lanes. The bold were snuffed out if they went a step too far.

In democratic societies we chafe at being pawns, and the bold among us do leap forward. The rules of law can still remind you you’re a pawn if you grow reckless, but mostly it’s other pawns telling you not to stick your neck out. And worse, En Passant largely resides in our own minds: Imposter syndrome, timidity, and fear of the unknown keep us skating in our own lane, one square at a time, while the big players in the world spin around us.

A pawn that plays by the rules may advance forward diligently and become a queen or any player it wants should it reach the end. There’s a subtle message there too, and you look around and most people play that game. Skate your lane, reach the end and retire… Fine, I suppose, but a little less sparkle for your time on the board, don’t you think?

No, there’s a place for boldness in this world. We are each in passing here for a very brief time. En Passant only applies to pawns, after all. And who said you had to be a pawn anyway?

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