Whenever I went to a gathering–a picnic, church event, whatever–I always had the same question for my parents, “Will there be other kids there?” Otherwise, for me, what was the point in going somewhere to watch a bunch of adults talking about boring stuff (and if we went to a private home and the people didn’t have kids, then pets were a necessity). Besides, I was and still am an only child; I savored opportunities to play with other kids.
Generally it didn’t matter who the kids were just so long as there were other kids. Perhaps it was going to day care (which I loved and was a great opportunity for me to socialize) or the fact I’ve been a social butterfly from the cradle, but I’d play with just about anyone. Obviously, kids who hit, screamed, didn’t share, and were otherwise bad influences were not at the top of my “to play with” list, but even if they were acting with civility they were invited to join in the fun. Race, gender, and religion really didn’t matter to us when we played kickball or blew bubbles or ran around enjoying a rousing game of tag.
Amazingly, it didn’t even matter if you knew the names of the children you just happened upon at the playground or if you ever saw them again. You were sharing the wonderful joy of the swings or balancing a see-saw or digging with a stick in the dirt. Ah, the good ol’ days of youth!
While my observations aren’t earth-shattering or even all that original, I still don’t understand why we as adults find it so hard to play with others. I’ve started to realize how I want to connect with people but make certain I don’t actually have to do any work– like I wait in my car until the other guy who just pulled up gets out and goes into the apartment building so I don’t have to say “hello”. Or when I make eye contact in public, and I turn away from a stranger instead of offering a cheerful smile. I mean, really, does a smile and/or a hello inconvenience me that terribly? Or at all?
Lately I’ve been thinking about the risks I don’t want to take because I might get rejected or because I’m scared or sad or this or that. But what kind of life is that? Someone once told me, “There are worthy risks and there a foolish risks; wisdom knows the difference but fear keeps us from both.” I’ve decided that there are worthy risks (that aren’t even terribly risky) I need to take to live a more complete human experience. While it hasn’t been “hard” yet, I know it will be, but for now, it’s pretty dang fun. It’s like living life for the first time…like I had my eyes closed for a few years. Then again, maybe I did.
Today I was at the pool with my BFF, Sarah, and it was a relatively calm day despite the heat and humidity. The day was gorgeous and the water temperature was perfect. Plus, I dived right into the water and only spent 30 seconds worrying about how I looked in my swimsuit (score!) After about an hour, a family of eight came into the pool (a couple moms, aunts, kids, and so on). They livened things up a bit with their laughter and playfulness…but it only added to my joy.
Sarah decided to get out of the pool and I followed her to the stairs when a game of pool volleyball break out in the shallow end. I told Sarah I wanted to play, and she told me to go ahead. I felt like a little girl walking up to new kids as I asked, “Can I play, too?”
“Absolutely!” replied a guy in his late 30’s who had cool dreads. I informed everyone that I was terribly uncoordinated but I would try to be encouraging and witty to make the experience more enjoyable. They assured me that they were also terrible.
So there we were Mark the dreadlock guy, Marie and her 12 year-old son What’s-His-Name, What’s-His-Name’s friend Rene, Marie’s sister Lisa, and me. The best part is that they were all black (except for Rene, who was of Indian descent) and I’m about the whitest white girl ever. But you know what? It didn’t matter one bit. We had a blast playing terribly, missing the ball, overshooting it, undershooting it, chasing it, and getting bonked in the face. We laughed and joked and teased like we were old friends. Midway through the game, Lisa asked me, “What’s your name anyway?” It was then that we exchanged introductions. The truth was that we were already friends and names just seemed like a formality.
After about 40 minutes, the game broke up for a bit and I bid adieu to my new friends of varying ages (we also decided that we were forming an Olympic Team, so look for us in the 2012 Summer Olympics) and we promised to meet up again. Since we all live in the same apartment complex, it shouldn’t be too hard to find ’em again. Besides, 8-10 black folks in a complex of mainly white folks do tend to stick out (not that a freckled plus-sized blond girl doesn’t…we’ll be able to find each other!)
I’m glad I asked if I could play because so often I don’t. I want to do something but I don’t actually e-mail the guy I met at the concert or call the old friend I want to catch up with or smile at a stranger or jump in puddles because I don’t want to get my shoes wet. It all started when I jumped in the puddles like a silly girl a couple of weeks ago (read here), dared to e-mail people I never dreamed of e-mailing, smiling at strangers regularly even when I didn’t want to, calling old friends to catch up…and playing with others even when I’m not sure if they’ll let me play, too. I’ve already been let down, lifted up, disappointed, and laughed so hard I cried. Such is the nature of life.
I know every experience won’t be like today. Some people won’t let me play and other people won’t call me back and my heart will be broken. But it’s been so long since I’ve even been willing to take the risk; it’s been so long since I’ve allowed myself to live with dangerous wonder.