Sunday, December 16, 2012

Learning To Play A New Game

So the other day, I was arriving at my son's middle school, because... um... well... I sort of forget.  I think he'd left something at home.  Given the number of times I have to pick something up or drop something off that has been forgotten, it all gets blurry.

When I arrived, there was a circle of tweeners out front of the school.  They weren't absorbed in their iPods, or milling about aimlessly.  They were playing a game together, actual human beings, facing one another and interacting.   They would strike out comically at each other, either making contact or not...and if not, they'd freeze in whatever exaggerated pose they'd ended up in.

It was not supervised, organized, or parent run.  There were no release forms.  They were just playing, in a self-organized game.

Huh, I thought, as I brought whatever-it-was-I was-bringing to my son.  I wonder what that is.  I don't remember that game.  I really had never seen it, not through my entire childhood, on in any of my years of time around children.

On Friday night, I drove what seemed to be halfway across the planet to my older son's varsity swim meet, at a rec center pool deep in the heart of what had been countryside back when I was in high school.  I was going to be a timer, which is actually a great way to get up and close and personal with the action.  I've done it enough to know that I needed not to wear shoes.

As I waited for the meet to begin, I noticed that while some teens were sitting cliche-oblivious to one another, absorbed in their pocket mind suckers, my older son was standing in a circle playing exactly the same game with a group of other kids.   Girls, mostly.  Smart lad, thought I.  Then, they played what was seemed a similar game, but with different motions and rhythm.  There was laughter and silliness.  It was good to see kids playing together, particularly on that night.

On the way home, I asked my older son what the game was called.  Two games, he said.  The one I'd seen at both schools they called "Ninja."  The other was called "Wa," and it was a motion and rhythm game.  They may have been out there somewhere back when I was a kid.   But they were not part of the life of middle schoolers and high schoolers in Northern Virginia back in the day.  Now, kids are teaching them to kids.  It's part of their culture.

Kids have always had their own folklore, their own stories, passed from child to child as a part of the child-world.  The fables and myths and games of childhood exist in a place apart from the dull and clumsy world of adults.  I fear, sometimes, that our kids are losing that, that we're cramming them so full of prepackaged entertainment product that their minds are becoming consumerist foie gras.

But the games continue...and they change.  That was a hopeful thing, important to see and feel this week in which all has sometimes seemed so trapped and hopeless.  What makes the world so alive when you are a child is the newness of it.  So much of what you encounter is new, and as you encounter it, the process of growing and living requires that you engage with it and figure out how or how not to integrate it into yourself.

And because everything is new to us, a totally new thing...a game, for instance, or a new way of doing something...can be taken in and lived out.

It's a skill we need to better develop, because it would serve us well as a people.  And perhaps that's part of what my Teacher meant when he said we can only enter the Kingdom as little children.

How can we be transformed, if we can never learn to play any new games?