Who would have thought playing at the park at 41 would be so sweet?
The focus of our discussion in my Wisdom Wednesday’s class has been on play. Our “homework” is to time travel back through our memories and recall all the ways we loved to play (anywhere from our earliest childhood memories to the present) and write a list of 300 specific ways we played, which could include: physical activity, board games, imaginary, crafts, dress up, dolls, instruments, dancing, and so on.
My current list is over a 1000 and is still going: all things grandma’s house; Barbie Dolls; My Little Pony; playing Marco Polo; diving for rings; chicken fights and being thrown from my brother’s shoulders in the pool; sleepovers; fort building; storytelling; Truth or Dare; Candy Land; Memory; Old Maid; Zelda; dressing up; newborn babies; crafts; collecting stickers, shells, and rocks; playing photographer; going to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, the Oakland and San Francisco Zoo, and Raging Waters; creating dance skits; playing house; lemonade stands; Nancy Drew; friendship bracelets; swings; and so much more!
Last Friday, without plans, I took myself to Rudgear Park, my childhood neighborhood stomping grounds. When I arrived, I grabbed my fiction novel from the library and headed for the empty swings. After a few mild swings, I went for a walk.
I watched young men and boys playing softball and baseball. I heard the friendly echo of laughter, kids at the nearby pool, the baseball hitting the bat, and partners playing tennis. Images of long-ago horses grazing the backyards that once bordered the park, summer camp, and the original slide, swings, monkey bars, and pony spring riders soon flooded my memory.
I began to embody my experience.
I was feeling nostalgic for simpler days. For a time when I played with the neighborhood kids as our parents played softball. When I watched my mom play tennis (and one day play with her) and when my friends and I would hang upside down, slide, and swing. Or those careless teenage days when we met up in the parking lot or drove by to spy on the boys playing basketball, hoping to get a glimpse of our latest crush. Whatever period or age, this park represents youth, play, and lighthearted wonder.
I ended the evening back on the swing.
The sun sank towards the baseball field and rays of light whispered through the branches. I swayed, read, and immersed myself in the smells, surroundings, and sounds of my youth. I glimpsed to observe the occasional neighbor and dog, the little girls as they twirled, dangled, and timidly turned away from the young boys. I smiled and secretly laughed as I eavesdropped on two teenage boys discussing their Friday night plans.
Then it was time. I set the book down and started to swing. My hair moved back and forth across my face, and the breeze swiftly moved through my body as momentum increased. I was flying high. My spirit child awakened.
I was present with no plan or purpose. I was happy purely being, observing, and playing. There was little room for concern or judgment. I did not linger too long into the past, wishing for something different, and I didn’t jump too far ahead. The thought that I should be doing something else never crossed my mind. The park was where I needed to be.
My world expanded as I connected with memories, nature, and those around me through welcoming glances and smiles. Though I no longer live in the neighborhood, the sense of belonging to this place and community will never leave. It will always be home.
The essence of pure play has a timeless and easeful quality. When we engage in playful activities, we lose a sense of self and emerge with our experience, and time expands.