A Need for Play

“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy [and Jill a dull girl].”–from Mother Goose

Many animals play: dogs, cats, horses, otters, monkeys, dolphins. People, too, play beginning in their first year of life, once they hit the floor. This process seems to increase exponentially in the first two decades, moving through the toys and games of preschoolers, through elementary school recesses, the playing of sports, the other kinds of play fostered by art, music, and drama, and via computer and screen interactions of secondary school right into college and university.

Something there is which wants, needs, and loves to play from the simple activities of peekaboo, hide-and-seek, to some of the older bygone pastimes of marbles, skipping rope, and hula hoops. Much of that desire comes from the Inner Child that remains with us from our childhood into adulthood. The latter being a period when parents and grandparents discover all over again the joy and spontaneity of play, its pleasures, engagements, and meanings.

Some even get to play for prizes, competitions, and a living as in the case of professional athletes. Others get to play at different roles in plays, musicals, or as performers in concerts. Play permeates our lives and, indeed, the bored person in line at the bank playing Angry Birds distracts him/herself, as we all do with the play of various screen entertainment, be it on a smartphone, television, or bigger screen. Diversion and distraction similarly found by millions of others listening to their MP3s, car radios, CDs, and the like.

It seems in these distracted/distracting times, that much of what we do, in fact, is play or seek the latest gadget that will facilitate play of some kind. And yet much of adult life is awash in the seriousness of educating oneself, job training, working, careers, meetings, working for a living, working to maintain a home and family. Something people often take very seriously often for long periods of time. Until, in some cases, individuals may wake up to the seriousness, responsibilities, and heaviness of life which they have traded for, losing much of their personal freedom, leisure, and carefreeness.

In short, the missing play, inner child, and wisdom of both may get lost and forsaken, a ‘lost childhood’ and innocence described by Wordsworth in his “Ode: Intimations on Immortality” and recovered by Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. It is this freedom to play and engage enjoyably and simply that may not resurface at all if not for new love, retirement, or the joys of grandparenthood.

Life’s seriousness is guaranteed by all manner of things: divorce, illness, debt, bad luck, accidents, and so forth. At times, it may seem as if the glass looks half or mostly empty. But the return to/of the pleasures and engagements of play reveal some of the best of life– the possibilities of fun, and shared pleasure. In that, the recovery of the best and simplest of what one once was and can be again through will, attitude, and choice.
(previously published here November 5, 2012)

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