As a child, there’s nothing like time at the playground. It’s a place for imagination to flow as you fly free on the swings, daringly climb to the top of the monkey bars, and see who can get the other to fall first on the teeter totter by abruptly jumping ship, followed up with belly laughs! I still walk near that park practically daily and am simply mindful of the memories, laughs, and even tears from falling atop the bars only to climb back up, renewed and ready to go, a sense of resiliency learned at a young age.
In our day, parents never knew much of what we were doing on the playground, or so we thought. We went unsupervised, not because we had bad parents, there just wasn’t a need for supervision. It was ingrained in us, growing up in a small town, there was always someone watching, someone who would take care or relay the message if need be. There was a lived reality and belief where we looked out for one another and we weren’t the center of the world; there were others sharing this space with us. Of course, there are negative connotations as we can assess it from an adult perspective, as if someone was ready to pounce on us if there was an issue, but I suppose as a child it’s a healthy fear to have, always knowing there was a line not to cross.
At times it still feels like I live on this proverbial playground. It appears, at times, like we’ve gone amuck and the adults have left us to ourselves, not even wanting to supervise, as if orphans in an unknown world. Now, though, we don’t know where the lines are and no one seems to care whether we’re hurting ourselves or each other, it’s practically each man and woman for him or her-self. It’s as we like to say, the “inmates are running the asylum.” It’s no longer about flying free, without a care in the world, swinging back and forth, but rather pushing each other off, mid-air, to see who we can hurt the most. It isn’t about the fun of climbing the bars, but rather stepping on one another to assume the place of power to lord it over others, all while the park begins to fade and turn into shambles, as if the memories of a war had faded but the scars remain and are always reminding us what we have lost without a sense of moving forward.
The silence, as you walk through, may be the one redeeming quality. As the children in charge continue to fight with one another, competing, lording, and most especially, simply surviving, it’s in the silence where you begin to cry at the reality, letting go of a world which once was and yet with some fear of what unfolds before the eyes. Is it me who’s crazy? Why do I want to remain disengaged from it all? Why don’t I see the point in what they’re fighting over and trying too hard to hold onto? It seems rather pointless. All this while the world around seemingly speeds up its deterioration. Is it our own inability to accept reality? Is it our desire to hold onto memories with the fear of losing all that mattered? I don’t know.
It seems, the one place where as kids we were able to escape, the playground, has been all but shattered. Rust covers the bars, swings empty, police tape closing it off as if criminal to play and imagine in a time when kids need it the most, overgrown grass, dilapidated basketball courts, often used as a roller-skating rink back in the day. Now, the wonder seems all but lost. There seems to be a lost sense of the other, the looking out for one another, while the world burns around us. Will there ever be a day when we recognize the other as ourselves? Will there ever be a day, again, when it’s not all about me, my wants, my rights, and to recognize we’re given one chance at this life and there’s more than just me, a day when we help the other climb rather than step on them to get ahead of them in order to get my way?
Everything and everyone has become so transactional. If someone doesn’t support my view or vision, we toss them. Heck, there’s always someone else out there who’s willing to sell their soul to get ahead! Isn’t that the way it works if you want to play the game? We’ve lost the sense of just playing the game to play with an addiction to winning. We’ve sacrificed what’s good and right for a gold star and a win to try to feed my own emptiness, only leaving me more depleted. Heck, we’ve even tried to soften the blow of a sliding board as we can somehow avoid getting hurt. We’ll go to the furthest ends to avoid the pain of loss and hurt. The irony and paradox, it only hurts more.
It’s good to imagine in the face of reality. It’s good to imagine not what the playground used to be but what it can be. Heck, just a little care and concern would go a long way, a recognition there are still children who need a place to play and use their own imaginations! Like us, as kids, they too need a place to escape into the world of imagination and dreams, not the seemingly, and all-too-real games, of a pad or gaming device! If anything, this deadens the imagination. A place, rather, which is illumined in the evening, where we don’t have to fear our own darkness but even play with our shadows. How about a place which screams with excitement for their arrival, de-stimulating their minds in order to explore the vastness of their own inner life? Better yet, a place where they can run free, risk the sting of a bee, falling flat in the mud, and get back up, a true lesson in resiliency. Resiliency will get them further in life than winning anyway.
We need, now more than ever, a world which dreams for tomorrow. We’ve settled for rusty monkey bars, overgrown grass, buckled courts, all while being distracted by the supposed adults and elders of society bickering with one another, consumed in their own pain, and failing to see the helpless child, screaming out, just wanting to feel safe and secure to dream and imagine a life as doctor, pilot, president, firefighter, dancer, teacher, etc. Who wants any of that when all you see being mirrored back is anger, resentment, and a lack of care and concern for your own well-being and caring more about themselves, some unwilling to let go of failed expectations.
I don’t know, maybe we’d all be a little better off if we spent time in a park, feeling free, giving perspective, and using our imaginations for a better world for our children and ourselves. Don’t they deserve better than we’re offering, and for that matter, modeling? There’s nothing like the sense of freedom and flying, swinging back and forth, wind in the hair, without a care in the world knowing, all will be well. I don’t know, maybe it’s me, but we can offer so much more. Simply stepping into the shoes of a child for a time will enliven the spirit, not to command them to be “mini-me’s” but to be who they are, children, and us, young at heart.