Thursday, February 16, 2006

Homemade Play

My son has discovered a group that plays Capture the Flag every Saturday afternoon behind the Art Museum. Ages range from seven to twenty-five. Whoever comes late joins the side most in need. They race around, capturing and freeing, bopping each other with homemade foam swords, having a glorious time. It is a miracle. With no adult supervision, no fees, no leagues, no uniforms, no defined teams, no championships, no ranking by age or skill, no exclusion, this is play at its most human.

We have a music-loving friend who hosts an annual sing of Handel's Messiah--pushing back furniture, borrowing chairs, and inviting everyone he knows to bring their voices--or other instruments--and goodies to share. We group by parts, the less secure singers looking for strong ones to follow. Sometimes people volunteer to do the solos, sometimes everyone joins in. We stumble throught the hard parts, but when we stand up for the Hallelujah Chorus, chills run up and down our collective spine. Together we create a magical evening.

I see these both as acts of cultural revolution. People have made their own fun. Nobody has had to buy a place in the league or a ticket to the show, or a set of rules made up by somebody else. All that is needed is a little planning, a few props, a generous invitation, and an expectation that the fun will be had in everybody playing--or singing--their hearts out.

Whenever we play together just for fun--in games, music, theater, art, whatever--and count on each other as our resources, we are claiming and growing a space that is free of consumerized entertainment. This is a precious space, where it is possible to breathe deeply. Finding it these days can be like pulling barbed wire from around our bodies, scraping grime off our eyes. We all need this space. As mass culture closes in, our children in particular are dying for it. Such play is worthy of our time, our energy, our creativity, our priority. It is a profound expression of humanity, and hope for the future.

Pamela Haines
Philadelphia, 12/03


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