Life Is a Playground

“There’s always the chance you could die right in the middle of your life story.” ~Chuck Paluniuh

I pulled into the lot in my little yellow Beetle, hoping like I always do, that I wouldn’t stall as I looked for a space. At least three times a week I come to this market on my lunch break.

I got out of my car after fishing through my empty-of-mints change box for enough money to buy a slice of the best pizza in the entire world. I’m hungry. That’s what makes it the best.

People are getting in and out of their cars and trucks, or sitting in them eating their lunch. I can’t help it. I start to smile. Sometimes I even laugh to myself, which, if caught is not a good thing. I’m so happy that people show up every day in my life. Yes. It’s my life. Mine. You might all be a figment of my imagination for all I know. But I love you for the wonderful job you’re doing. And I am thrilled to have another lunch.

I make a beeline for the pizza case. There’s a man there who is sliding his slice onto a paper plate as I look through the glass window of the other side of the warmer just to see the choices for the day. He’s not up to talking. Neither are any of the other people that I snake my way through and around to get to the checkout counter.

I think about it all the time when I’m out: how uncomfortable is it for some people to make eye contact and “play” in the moment? Very is my guess, because only one in ten persons does. Dogs and I do it very well. They always want my attention. But I’ve made the mistake a few times recently of misinterpreting a lengthy stare as wanting some attention when he really just had to pee and was really begging, “Would you please just let me out before I get into more trouble?!”

Finally, after bequeathing the change for my pizza to the girl behind the counter (she was fun by the way….joking that she would add it to her college fund) I descended the steps to a waiting table, half in the shade, facing the street.

It never fails: every time I’m eating I have gawkers. This time it was a woman sitting at a table facing me. I think I could do a very good commercial for pizza. It’s fun to watch people salivate as they stare. They really do. I catch them all the time. I so wanted to talk to her because she was more awake than my two companions sitting opposite me. I’d interpreted their  lack of desire for engagement with me as tiredness and a genuine boredom with the mundane routine of lunch and life, and decided to go back to work alone where I could sing and daydream.

But as I readied to leave, my heart stood still.

A minivan pulled up to the curb and the side door slid open, revealing a woman climbing over a little boy strapped into his car seat. He reminded me of my little boy, Kenny , #8 of 9, the one who dances when no one is watching. Life, adult life, adult needs, cares and concerns were overshadowing his little body and magnificent soul.

Strapped into a car he wouldn’t be able to drive for 10 more years, his day at the mercy of a life planned by others, I wondered if he would get a chance to play. His face seemed so worried, as if he’d forgotten his joy at home, tucked under his pillow.

I let that thought work on me all day yesterday and into the night.

How hard is it for most of us to really live as if everything, everyone, every situation has seeds of opportunity for connection in it / them? How young are we when we start sleep-walking through lunch with an amazing and fun person like me?

On our walk to the pond the other day, James and Kenny and I passed an old neighbor, one who lived next door to a house we used to live in. The boys struggled to the top of the hill and left me walking at a slower pace when the road leveled out in front of this man’s house.”

“Long time no see! Where have you been?”

I didn’t sense that he wanted any details of my life, or to know that we’ve been walking to the other side of the pond closer to our house, and I needed to catch up with the boys before they reached the treacherous decline to the pond, so I said a quick, “I’ve been around, I don’t get out much, ” which was misleading because I get out every day, just not in that neck of the woods.

“You ought to get out more!” he called as we waved goodbye.

“I know,” I said, because what I think he really meant to say was that it’s nice seeing people when he’s sitting on his front step. He likes some interaction. Maybe he feels more alive?

I don’t know about you, but I get confused sometimes. I shut down when I can’t find someone to play with, and for a while I stop “showing up”. I let other people’s moods and life-concerns decide for me whether I’ll live in the moment as me or as a poor imitation.

That was how I felt after lunch and as I made my way to my car and back to work. Who was going to play with me and take a ho hum day to one filled with laughter and rejuvenating connection?

In the middle of the second half of the day I nearly burst with a new realization – one that I won’t share because it really doesn’t matter. But I really wanted to share it with someone. I had two people, my lunch partners, in the other room, to share my news with. So, I threw caution to the wind, along with the cork that was stopping up my joyful spirit, and bounded into the room.

“Guess what?!!” I semi-yelled to them, waking them from a very profound and deep and peaceful silence.

And then the sun started to rise. I could see it in the corners of their mouth first and then the light crept up to their eyes. And then in their own way they each said, “Oh, Betsy,” as I turned to leave them, walking lighter for having deposited a piece of me with them.

And that was that.

Moral of the story: If you want to play, play. 🙂



14 thoughts on “Life Is a Playground

  1. enjoyed your little lunch life walk, I have those days to. I love to share me ,most of the time, I love seeing the smiles returned.,no words sometimes just smiles, I too wonder about the stories behind the avoiding eye’s , the angry looks, Sometimes people look so lost, I just want to hug them.and say it will get better..When I meet with my group of ladies on Mondays, they eagerly await my new story, sometimes it’s a real simple tale, other times its not so simple,but I always have something to tell them to make them smile…I call it the perils of Mary Ann, just like you,life is an adventure,sometimes slow and sleepy and others like a jumping Jack. Keep writing ,I love it…

  2. Exactly, Mary Ann! Gathering with friends regularly meets the need to connect! People really want that.
    I open the doors to the Family History Center every Tuesday and Thursday evening, after a long day of work and being away from my family. I do it because I love it. Repeat “customers” admit to me that even though they learn enough in the first few visits to continue solo at home until they get stuck again, they come back because of how they feel when they are there.
    So, to combine the two, I decided yesterday to do a 1/2 hour gathering where we can learn something new, eat some food, and those who want to socialize can continue, and those of us who are working can feel like we’ve had our “playing” needs met first.
    I wish you didn’t live in Virginia…so far away! Thanks for being such a good “new” friend!

  3. AHA.. “If you want to play, play.”.I needed to hear that today! Thank-you! I just changed my plans 🙂 It’s been a kind of long stressful week, usually that doesn’t throw me but this time it… Yes Ma’m I’m going to play today..and maybe tomorrow too!

    As Always ~*~

    • Sorry about your week! I’m glad that you are free to do something you WANT to do! I haven’t been playing much at all lately. I come home from work and watch the kids play, and then go to bed early….but Winter is coming and I have 52 Polar Plunges on the agenda ’til July 2014. I miss them so much! See ya around, Ann!

      • 52 polar plunges???? twice a week??? Oh My..LOL..Betsy! It’s a good thing you don’t have to do them in Lake Michigan, you’d have to walk a mile or more out on the shifting iceburgs! Fun to do but scary too…walk I mean NOT dip!
        One day we’ll do a few together in the Summer way up there in Amber Country!!! 🙂

      • I was thinking about an Alaskan plunge. We might get frostbite just walking to a watering hole! LOL!

        (And it’s more than 2 a week because I can’t start til late September???)

  4. Good morning Betsy,

    Have I ever told you that you write beautifully? I read a lot and I know great writing when I read it. This story, in particular, made me feel as if I was a stalker watching your every move yesterday. I just felt like I was there with you. Just awesome.

    Your’s is one of a handful of blogs I share with my wife because she, too, has such a wonderful outlook on life and she always enjoys reading about your days.

    I’m so busy lately I don’t always come over to comment but know that I always read. Today you gave me a great big smile. “Oh Betsy indeed!”


  5. Best post EVER! I love play.

    This was such a joy to read. I played last weekend at Lisbon Sauerkraut Days. I don’t get out to play much, but I think I’ll try to do a better job of it, now.

    Also, I agree with Darrell Cherry, you do write beautifully.

    • You know, Brian, something happened this year, probably when I started my Polar Plunges. When I came out of the water I was different – really awake to how little advantage I was taking of the joyful moments to be had.

      Do you know that the extra courage to “show up as me” has made a profound impact on how I’m treated? I walked into work today and a woman called, THERE SHE IS! Miss Elizabeth!” after which I gave her a quick hug and slap on both cheeks.

      She said, “Oh, that’s right! You’re a hitter!” as she walked away laughing.

      Life is fun. Except when it’s not. But it always gets fun soon enough.

  6. Life as a playground is an excellent message ~ Life is not a work-ground, a grind, a battle, a challenge(sometimes)…. I often think how alone or lonely we can feel in a crowd! But then it’s only a matter of connecting with just “one” person and everything changes. You make one comment…at least I do and the person, the complete stranger opens up and is glad to share something or other…even something about the weather and even sometimes something quite significant!. I am very curious about people, always have been curious about the playground of life and so might be considered nosey, yet in most cases people are happy you’ve made the attempt to connect.

    I really enjoy your writing….. thanks again for making yet another important message “of life” so clear!

    • HAHA! Casudi! I think I border on being nosy, too! I turned it around in my head today at work and realized I’d NEVER want to talk about myself the way I make others open up to me! I’m relentless, but never knew how it must feel to be dissected endlessly. I could listen to others’ stories forever. That’s a big part of why I love family history: so many dead people with nowhere to go! LOL! Thanks for coming by Casudi. And thank you!

  7. Excellent Betsy! I SO agree with you- we all need to reconnect with the simplicity of child play time. Seems to be fading in our hyperspeed and serious everything lifestyles. Great imagery and a sense of calm that perfectly meshes with your message. I also need to “show up” more often. Life has a way of keeping me in timeout (was going to use grounded- but the more today term would be timeout). Little unexpected connections are so fun. Thanks for calling me out to play!

    • And you know, Joe, it’s the simple banter at work, the random practical joke, the spontaneous treat brought for friends, or an unexpected tickling fest…it really is just closing the gap between between a thought and an action that makes all the difference.

      I wish I had more free time for play excursions. But I don’t. That’s why I rely on the day-to-day moments made extraordinary.

      Timeout. I like that!

      Thanks, Joe!

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