Living, As It Is
The playground is on a rise next to the brick school and the park. The wind is blowing, chilly, but hinting of the Spring to come.
They’re running as fast as they can, just for the fun of it. They swing on the bars, jump down hard, and grin widely. Next, they run up the slide as quickly as possible, grab the top edge and hang for a moment, then slide down on their bellies, laughing, into the rubber chips on the ground at the bottom.
Little girls in action are amazing creatures. Some, like tiny flowers, wear sparkling hair ornaments, tiny ruffled skirts over leggings, and ballerina flats. Others, ponytails flying, wear jeans, T-shirts and sneakers. They glance at one another, picking up secret signals that tell them with whom to play. They exult in the joy of movement, plunging headlong into new tricks and games, playing without self consciousness.
Then come the boys, taking over their spots on the equipment with the sheer force of their mass and exuberance, careless, up and down the slides and ladders, tumbling into laughing piles, like litters of puppies. They are lean, dark, fair, plump and crew cut, all different sizes and shapes, united in their flight.
Children are full-fledged people, of course. As said by the loan shark in the movie Rocky, “You don’t think I hear things?” They do. They observe and they experience stress, just as do adults. But, oh the joys of running for no reason and throwing yourself down on the ground!
In the distant future are the budding curves of young womanhood, the avoidance of any move that causes jiggling, the furtive glances at the boys in class, the deep concern about looks and clothes and love, not to mention career paths. The boys hold themselves tightly, avoiding eye contact, agonizing privately over pimples, sprouts of hair and cracking voices.
Am I good enough? Do they like me? Does he think I’m cute? Will I look like a fool when I try out for the team? That’s coming, all too soon.
A nana stands and watches, fighting any urge to ask the big boys to be careful of the girls; the girls to follow the Judeo-Christian principle that allows sliding boards to be used only for sliding, resisting any urge to say, “Be careful!” “Don’t hurt yourself!” As her grandchild tumbles backwards onto the grass below a low retaining wall, she takes only a few steps forward, keeps her arms at her sides, and allows events to play out. The little girl is only startled. She smiles and jumps up quickly.
There’s another watching in this nana’s life. It takes place in a hospital where her best friend suffers the full blown anguish of a life threatening illness. This friend struggles to get out of bed, and walks only briefly and slowly, tethered to a heavily laden I.V. pole.
These cavorting little ones will grow up, settle down to careers, marriage and parenthood, all the while glorying in their own vigor. Fingers that work, toes that work, physical strength, resilience, all feel normal and give one a slight cockiness. “Sure, I can move that piece of furniture, ski those moguls, and recover to go to work the next day. I’m strong. There is no thought of “I’m strong for now.” That’s undoubtedly a good thing.
It’s a shock to really understand the impermanence of life. In youth, it’s almost always someone else, not often threatening to one’s invincibility. Stories abound. “He didn’t pack his chute correctly.” “I’m careful. I pack a reserve chute.” Translation: “It will never happen to me."
As one’s own body begins to play tricks, that game stops working. In this new context, the potential loss of one’s dearest friend, the one who’s always been there, forever, opens the window to a life without a future.
So, there is a time limit, whatever it is, but it doesn‘t matter. A few are left, with the cast of players changed, and a new fourth for bridge. Those left at the table keep playing. As they should. And, hopefully, they stroll down to the playground once in awhile.