Sunday, November 25, 2012

Just Because We Can

Play is the exultation of the possible.  Martin Buber
Years ago, when Doug and I lived in Calgary, a few of our friends became enmeshed in a commercial self-development program, the name of which has long since passed into the oblivion of my memory.  What I do remember about the program is that, apart from costing a lot of money and having innumerable tangential programs which one could continue taking (all involving large expenditures of cash), it encouraged people to schedule time to be spontaneous (yes, I do recognize that is an oxymoron), to play (the phrase “get in touch with your inner child” nauseating as that sounds seems familiar to me), to “live true to themselves” and other similar either meaningless or outright selfish activities.  The whole thing was decidedly “cliquey” – people who had taken the courses spoke their own jargon and instantly bonded at social events, they did inexplicable things, like buying masses of expensive and completely unnecessary sporting clothing and equipment, or, notably worse, left their young children and spouses to pursue their own self-actualization.  One of my more cynical friends dubbed these folks the “shiny happy people.”  Self-actualization, self-fulfilment, personal development, whatever you want to call it was so frenetically pursued that these folks seemed to have no time left to enjoy themselves.  

The whole thing smacked of crass commercialization and narcissism, and, it was never clear to me that the people who had taken the courses were any better off than those who hadn’t.  Twenty years on, I’ve long since lost touch with these folks, but, I do occasionally hear about them via the grapevine (usually from our mutual acquaintance who originally coined the “shiny happy people” moniker) and to an outside observer, their lives now seem anything but successful.  Marriages are either broken or breaking, inheritances have been spent, debts are big, self-actualization is receding as fast as hair-lines.  

But, that is all a somewhat, but not completely, tangential aside.  Yesterday, Doug and I were at a birthday party at my brother’s house with a number of my relatives and friends who I had not seen for 23 years (since I moved to Canada).  Almost without exception they were (while exceptionally nice people) overweight and out of shape.  My brother’s house sits about 30 to 40 metres above the Georges River and has a well-built (190 steps) staircase that leads down to a pontoon floating on the Georges River (at the top of the steps, he also has a built in swimming pool).  It was a classic Aussie day – 30 C, brilliant clear blue skies – perfect swimming weather.  Doug and I were diving in and out of the river and blasting up the steps to swim in the pool.  We played a bunch of impromptu water games which I haven’t played since I was a kid.  It was, as one of my friends would say “a hoot.”  

Most, but not all of the people at the party, at some point staggered down the 190 steps to sit by the water while Doug and I cavorted like seals.  It seemed, for many of them, a big achievement to make it down and back up, although, the elevation gain is truly not more than 35 or 40 metres.  Doug overheard two comments that he later related to me.  The first, one of my cousins saying “I’m 66, getting up 190 steps is bound to be hard,” the second, “I haven’t seen people jump into the water like that (in reference to Doug and myself) in years.”  Afterward, the whole thing struck me as desperately sad.  All my regular skiing and climbing buddies back in Canada are 60 plus (some 70 plus) and they all routinely climb 5.10 and pound out big days in the mountains.  

Walking 35 metres uphill just shouldn’t be that hard.  The human body was made to run, to lift heavy objects, to squat down, to carry things.  We should do more of these activities.  We should also remember what it is to play – to jump in the water and swim just because it feels good.  To run up steps, climb trees, play on jungle gyms, climb rocks, walk in wonder through the woods with the birds calling overhead and kangaroos disappearing into the scrub.  We should just be children again, not in a structured “get in touch with your inner child” way, or as part of some scheduled spontaneous time, but just because we are lucky enough to be alive, to have enough to eat and drink, to have friends and family, to have a roof over our heads, just because we can.   

Doug playing around on the trees at Corang Camp

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