Have you ever stopped playing?
It felt like a very long day today — a failure on one of the servers at work almost led to loosing all our customer data! The fact it happened on a Saturday made things worse. Luckily, it all ended up well, but the day almost wore out by then. Still I felt uneasy — it didn’t feel right to finish with the bitter taste that panic, worry and grave seriousness through the day left in my mouth.
A glance through the window let me see the sun still shining and the evening inviting for a play outside with my older daughter. We both jumped on our bikes and off we went to visit the many playgrounds in our neighbourhood. This is when I realized I’ve been reaching out to play as a way to deal with stress and make me feel better ever since I’ve got my first daughter.
I haven’t thought about it until tonight, but I can’t remember doing many “playful” things since almost I was a child my self. I always led a fairly serious life, with great responsibility for my actions and thought that hard-working discipline is the only requirement for success. Not that I haven’t done things for fun, on the contrary, but play to me is when you have fun by being immersed with all the senses into something you do out of joy and without worrying if you “behave” for your age.
After a great deal of biking, monkeying around and just enjoying the few remaining hours of sun, I thought to end the day with a book. I have been really busy lately and my reading suffered, so I reached out to one of my favorite authors, Ray Bradbury, knowing he will push my thoughts and make me see life and some of the stupidity of modern societies in new light. (If you haven’t read one of his classics, Fahrenheit 451, stop reading here — go ahead, get the book, read it and then come back!)
I picked up a collection of stories named We’ll Always Have Paris and started reading the first story — Massinello Pietro. With my mind still thinking about the value of play, the serendipity was too extraordinary! I’ll let Ray himself speak, without explaining what the story is about:
“Once, thought Pietro, once I had many dimes, many dollars, much land, many houses. And it all went away, and I wept myself into a statue. For a long time I couldn’t move. They killed me dead, taking away and taking away. And I thought, I won’t ever let anyone kill me again. But how? What do I have that I can let people take away without hurting? What can I give that I still keep?
And the answer was, of course, his talent.
My talent! thought Pietro. The more you give away, the better it is, the more you have. Those with talent must mind the world.
He glanced around. The world was full of statues much like he had been once. So many could move no longer, knew no way to even begin to move again in any direction, back, forth, up, down, for life had stung and bit and stunned and beat them to marble silence. So then, if they could not move, someone must move for them. You, Pietro, he thought, must move. And besides, in moving, you don’t look back at what you were or what happened to you or the statue you became. So keep running and keep so busy you can make up for all those with good feet who have forgotten how to run. Run among the self-monuments with bread and flowers. Maybe they will move enough to stoop, touch the flowers, put bread in their dry mouths. And if you shout and sing, they may even talk again someday, and someday fill out the rest of the song with you. Hey! you cry and La! you sing, and dance, and in dancing perhaps their toes may crack and knuckle and bunch and then tap and tremble and someday a long time after, alone in their rooms, because you danced they will dance by themselves in the mirror of their own souls. For remember, once you were chipped out of ice and stone like them, fit for display in a fish-grotto window. But then you shouted and sang at your insides and one of your eyes binked! Then the other! Then you sighed in a breath and exhaled a great cry of Life! and trembled a finger and shuffled a foot and bouned back into the explosion of life!
Since then, have you ever stopped running?
You see, Pietro was once a successful businessman who worked hard for his wealth, but he lost all that and after a period of grief at his state, he decided to take his life back.
“Do you know what I did? I invested what little I had left in dogs, geese, mice, parrots, who do not change their minds, who are always friends forever and forever. I bought my phonograph, which never is sad, which never stops singing!”
Together with his pets and his always singing phonograph, he lived in his house — The Manger — and did lot’s of charity work to help poor, neighbours, the community around him. And he did that with a song and a cheerful smile on his face. Unfortunately, his neighbours didn’t appreciate the presence of so many animals in his house, nor the loud singing waking them up at four A.M. They put an end to all of that by putting Pietro in jail.
“On either side of the Manger that night it was quiet at one A.M. and it was quiet at two A.M. and it was quiet at three A.M. and it was such a loud quitness at four A.M. that everyone blinked, sat up in bed, and listened.”
I think it is time we all try to listen more — and we owe listening to ourselves the most! To the once little boys and girls who could play all day long and never get tired! To the children we supressed with all our seriousness and worries as we grew up to be adults and care more if we “behave” for our age then if we have fun — as age is no excuse to stop playing!