Archive for Wednesday, June 13, 2001

Adults need to take time to play as well

June 13, 2001

It is said that God loves his children best when they are at play. I am not altogether sure about that, but I know that play is the proven characteristic common to all of the higher vertebrates. Play defines us like no other activity that we undertake. Sure, I know that men are supposed to be defined by their job, and women by their homes and children. Yet even those defining traits are undergoing changes as roles and necessity demands a different approach to modern life. But play goes on.

The biggest problem is that play in its purest form has taken a bad rap for adults. For such a long time, we have seen play as simply for children. Older teens and middle-aged men are constantly admonished to grow up. A person with a small or different sense of humor is said to have been "born old" and children of parents who have held onto or at least re-discovered the exuberance of play are embarrassed by their actions.

Now before you start trotting out all the examples of inappropriate behavior of people who have tried to hold on to their youth, let me explain something. Play is not being childish and being childish is not necessarily play. Being playful does not stop when a person reaches a certain magic age, never to be appropriate again. Play in its best and purest form is simply that exuberance for life that allows us to step outside the boundaries of what circumstances are present and find something magical in them. It is the tremendous gift of life that makes a chore into a game, and a game into some transcendent event that gives newness to the day and brings joy to life.

Watch children at play. For them, nothing is too extraordinary to be possible. Sticks become light sabers and boxes become castles. A pile of dirt is a star gate that takes them to a different planet or universe. Strangers are the evil knights they must evade and sometimes their imagination provides an unseen companion for a time. Even computer games allow the player to step outside of reality for a moment (or an hour) and find playfulness to be real. It is this ability to see into and beyond a situation that signals a chance for play.

Of course, adults play in a different fashion than children. Much of our play is really gaming. Seldom do we simply play. We compete against ourselves, the boss, the clock, a bank account, the car next to us on the interstate or even our spouses. Frequently, we mistake our competition as play. But sometimes, when it suddenly becomes "fun" we discover that we are truly at play. For that is the major element required for play it must be fun.

When an activity becomes fun, the outcome doesn't matter. We find ourselves immersed in the joy of the activity almost unaware of the end result. We play for the joy of playing. The dictates of necessity no longer matter. We become really alive in that moment or hour or day of play. It invigorates us and gives us a new sense of the possibilities of life. It stops the aging process, perhaps even turning back the clock on our lives.

Play is also "serious business." By that, I don't mean that is dire and mournful, but rather it is, for the moment, taken seriously, especially for adults. It is engrossing and demands our attention. In fact, play captures us with its magic and transforms what we are doing into some enterprise that fills our mind and taps all our energies for the task at hand. We find that time takes on a different perspective. The world around us seems to fade into the background, leaving us cocooned in the process of play.

The power of play is such that we must have it. In some sense, it is the additive to life that makes it real and not just a hologram of reality. It is demanded for good health both mental and physical. We must play. After all, it might just be when we are most what we were created to be.

Monte the Dancing Bear as always.

Baldwin City Recreation Commission: 820 High St.; Phone, 594-3670; e-mail,

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