Spinning

I faintly recall our house in Reidsville, and I know that the house in Greensboro had blue shag carpet in my bedroom, and that my sister and I “redecorated” the bed, her doll, and a few books while we were still there. I remember learning how hot things got cold and cold things got hot when they were left at room temperature… I couldn’t understand why my pear didn’t stay cold. But my first true memory is of a very particular merry-go-round.

The Merry-Go-Round is my favorite playground element. I like the swing, it is a very close second, but the merry-go-round? You spin faster and faster and faster and give yourself over to the force pulling you against the bar, never quite sure if you might spin off or stay until the next push. It has been years since I’ve been on one, but some of the same feeling comes when I go Contra Dancing, the same spin and release of control to someone else.

As a child, I always wanted to do the merry-go-round first. After church one morning, we went to go visit one of the mission communities in Columbus, Georgia where my father would eventually serve, Open Door. And I saw it. In the back there was a playground and I saw my prize: the merry-go-round.

Like a smart child who has learned the ways of the world, I knew that the quickest way to get from one point to another was in a straight line. Even if there was grass that was kinda tall, and there was an obvious path out of the way, I went straight to where I wanted to go.

I didn’t make it.

Stinging started.

I looked down, and my legs, in their lovely white tights (that I hated, by the way), were crawling with stinging things.

My seven year old self freaked out.

I thought that I had been attacked by a swarm of bees. I did not like bees. I did not want to be covered with them. But I was covered with stinging horribleness.

I don’t know how my mother got me to calm down enough to realize that I was not, in fact, being stung by a swarm of bees, instead I had run straight into a briar patch of sand spurs.

After I calmed down enough to sit, my mother and the children around me began to pick the stingers off of my tights at least enough to get me to take the tights off. There were too many stingers to get them all off a seven year old’s squirming legs.

I distinctly remember the kindness of the children around me and I distinctly remember that they were all black.

My first true memory, with a beginning, middle, and end is of children like me and yet with a different skin color than me.

I did end up getting to play on that merry-go-round, with those children.

I don’t know if I ever learned their names.

I don’t remember if I ever played with them again, though I don’t think so.

I’d love to say that I was always as kind to other children as they were to me, but I know that is not true.

I know that I learned that caring for someone is not based on their skin color.

I know that sometimes the path might not be the most direct route, but that the people who are part of the community know the dangers that formed the safest way to journey together.

And I know that playing together and working together is better than trying to push a merry-go-round all by yourself. If you take turns as the rider and the spinner, everyone has more fun.

Play With Me

Watching my daughter play has reminded me of some of my favorite toys as a child. Before seeing her pull some of them out, I’m not sure I could have told you what they were, but now, after she has loved on them in the same way that I must have, I remember how much fun I had with them.

There is one toy set that I especially remember and that she is having continual fun with each day: the Sesame Street neighborhood playhouse. Burt, Ernie, Cookie Monster, and Big Bird have their little beds and nest, breakfast table and chairs, couch, slide, see-saw, and car to carry their groceries from Mr. Hooper’s store. Oscar the Grouch is in his trashcan outside. It is thirty years old. My daughter loves it. Not because it is Sesame street, but because it is an entry for her to pretend that another world exists.

She doesn’t know these characters, so she has made them her own. She cares for them. They share her crackers, they nurse when they are thirsty, they have apple and blueberry and cherry snacks whenever they can get a bite. They drive around in their little car from the Hearth Plateau to the cliffs of Mount Couch and through the pass to the Caverns of the dining room table.

I love play, because it allows people to imagine another world, one where the rules don’t always apply, where you can try things out to see how they work without being judged for not fitting in. My daughter reminds me that I need to keep playing, to keep imagining a world where things are not always what they seem. Play reminds us that there are more ways to do something than the way that everyone around us is doing it.

The world is a much bigger place when you can play in it, when a box can be stacked, or become a drum, or be a place for a baby to rest, or a hiding place, or a kitchen cabinet. We live in a fascinating place, we just miss it too often, because we expect to see what we already know. What if we looked at the world like a place to play, where we expect to be surprised by what is in store for us?

Swinging

I love swings.

I love the free abandon of swings.

To swing, you can get a push here and there, you can have people help you along, as you begin and gain momentum, but at a certain point, there is only so much someone can push you, there is only so high you can go with a helpful hand at your back, and at that point, to go higher, you must take your own initiative, and push yourself.

Alternating your body in a sideways S in back fall, and a lengthened L in forward motion, you have to pump back and forth to be able to rise higher. But as you propel yourself through shifting your weight back and forth on the swing, you reach a higher point at each apex, until your eyes are beyond the level of the structure from which the swing hangs.

It becomes much more than a seat suspended on a rope or a chain. It is a way to glide, to test what it would feel like to fly, to feel temporary moments of utter weightlessness alternated with extra force on every limb, down to your core. The swing is a way to escape, for a moment, the normal way the world works, and feel the rise and fall of your new being, carried by the dynamic of back and forth, back and forth.

I remember having to wait in line for the swings, to take turns to be able to swing on them. It always seemed that the amount of time I was in the air was minuscule in relation to how long I saw others take their turns. I don’t think that whoever was mediating was being unfair, I believe that time on the swings changes. I think that time is different when you are going back and forth on the swings, time is different as you go from weightless to heavy and back. When we swing, we are different people. It sounds silly, of course, but many things that we do change us, and when we play we are especially changed.

When we play, we can take on other ideas, we can become other people, we can discover new things about the world and about ourselves. We grow, as we play.

I still love to play on the swings. I don’t do it as often as I could, the church where I serve has a set, and they are well sunk in the ground, so I can swing as high as I want without worrying about tipping out or over. And every so often, I do go out, taking my seat, beginning to push myself back and forth, back and forth, creating an ever widening arc, playing with the joy of a child as the cumulation of my years float away on the wind.

And I swing.

Dog Dreams

For Christmas, my parents gave me a jar filled with over six hundred small slips of paper written with conversation and writing prompts. This is the one of my responses:

My dog, Sunny, is a yellow lab with some retriever mixed in. She’s a retired service dog. She served as an aid for a while, but she was eager to play and so had to move to a home that didn’t need such constant care and attention. We’re a good match, Sunny and I. We both like to help others, and we both like to play silly games with each other.

She’s created a game of chase and capture that drifts over into her dreams. I can tell because she has the same short yip for both that she doesn’t use anywhere else. She will find one of her play balls, and nudge it with her nose, until it rolls across the floor, and then she bats is with her paws around the room until it settles into her goal. It almost looks like a kid practicing soccer. She yips when she makes her goal, and then looks to me for approval. I cheer, and then we go get a treat.

She really is quite adorable when she sleeps. She dreams about playmates and the individual that she served; she has yips and purls for everything. In her dream, she will lie on her bed, and make furtive movements, seeking her goal until finally, yip, and her goal is completed. She cries and whines when she remembers when someone needed help, and she dashes across open fields of delight. Have I mentioned how adorable she is. Really quite adorable.

… … … …

I don’t really have a dog, and so I can make up whatever I like. I wonder if there is such a dog, who would create her own game so that she could play by herself whenever she was tired of waiting for someone else to come and entertain her. I imagine dogs don’t have very complex dreams, but I may be wrong, maybe they are so elaborately complex in their dream world that they have to compensate for not being able to communicate in the way that humans can understand. No wonder we have movies about dogs that travel miles to come save someone and can talk in complete sentences.

Perhaps it is more like the narration of Wil Wheaton: food, you have food, I like that food, I want some of that food, yes?

Sometimes I wish I could be as simple as that. But probably I would be more like my imaginary friend, Sunny, and make up my own game to amuse myself.

I picked a dog that doesn’t act like a normal dog to be my imaginary friend. I grew up deathly afraid of dogs. I didn’t want to be around them, I was scared they were going to attack me, I was frightened of their unpredictability, their growling barks, and their teeth. Mom and Dad say that I was jumped on by a huge dog when I was two or so, and for ten to fifteen years, I had the hardest time being in the presence of any kind of dog. They were scary, and I learned that they could perceive my fear, which made me all the more reluctant to try to relax.

Some animals, especially those who have been trained to do so, can pick up the underlying emotions and tensions of the people around them. I learned early on that I had to look a dog in the eye, and not let it know that I was afraid of it if I was going to be able to be in the same room with it. To often I reacted in such a way that would set the poor dog off. Luckily, I don’t think anything horrible ever happened because of my jumpiness.

If I were to pick a dog as a companion, I would pick one that was honorable. Rather than the first to react in a tense situation, I want a dog that helps to calm me down. I want an honorable dog from a noble profession, one who helps me to be the best person that I can be. No wonder I created an imaginary friend who helps me play and be calm. That’s the kind of people I like to surround my self with. It makes perfect sense that I would create that kind of companion for myself. I want to be like my imaginary friend: encouraging, playful, and honorable. What a dream.

Mail me a Fish

I mailed a fish yesterday. It was sweet and sticky and brightly colored red. A Swedish fish. A gummy thing that I really don’t like, but I have seen others enjoy. And it’s fun.

One time, I was at a Ruby Tuesday, and I saw a drink with a fish, and I wanted to know what it was and so I asked and the waitress brought me one. The fish. Not the drink. I might have been fourteen.

I was curious and I wanted to know what was going on. It struck me.

And so I learned more about the world and how people put fish in drinks. Like I put a fish in the mail.

Mail myself to you? Send myself away? Was I wanting to be a part of the world and how it spoke up and drowned me out?

If I was a fish I wouldn’t be drowned.

But in the world I would be gasping and still unable to breathe because I was not in the water.

And the fish was in the box and so it couldn’t get out.

But it was ok because it was a Swedish fish candy. And candy doesn’t care where it is. Candy is not an entity.

Phew. I can still eat it. But not the fish, because I don’t like it. Other candy, however, is ok.

And then I will mail it out and send it to you, because it is sweet. And you are sweet. Sweetish, not Swedish. You are dear and you care and so I will send you a letter that shows my care for you.

Because the place where we swim and play and fight and love and laugh and splash and spin and flip and twist and learn is the place where we live.

We don’t want to escape, because we cannot live with out the bounds of our selves. Thought we might want to change, we have the joy of being in this space with our fish.