“A child who does not play is not a child, but the man who does not play has lost forever the child who lived in him and who he will miss terribly.”
Play is inherent to mammals—this we know from watching hours and hours of National Geographic documentaries about every critter from the great apes to prairie dogs. The internet is replete with crazy cat videos, baby goats leaping and hopping, and even cows jumping for joy. University of Tennessee expert on animal behavior, Dr. Gordon Burghardt, defines play as “behavior that doesn't seem to have a survival purpose, is rewarding in and of itself, and is performed when an animal is fully fed and stress free.” In children, and in social animals, play is also purposeful. It teaches us how to play by the rules, helps us develop skills we will need as adults, creates social bonds and instills the social norms for any given culture.
But play is not the sole province of mammals; it can also be seen in some of the large-brained bird populations such as crows and hawks. Soft-shelled turtles have been observed playing, as have Komodo dragons, and even octopuses and wasps. In other words, play is a natural and normal part of being creaturely. That being said, some of us have forgotten how to play—we sometimes think that getting inebriated and making a spectacle of ourselves is “just how we roll.” I've been known to do that, I must confess, particularly in my younger days, but I've found the consequences to be less than fun in aftermath. Play is more essential than that.
Play is individually defined. What is play for me, may not be play for you, and vice versa. I have a middle-aged-adult friend, for instance, who still maintains a relationship with her teddy bears. She moves them around, puts them into little scenarios such as having tea, or reading a book; they have conversations, while she paints beautiful watercolors of them. When I was growing up, my sister, Jerrie, loved to play with dolls, dress them up in Mother's scarves, and make up games for them. I hated that—it was torture, not play, for me. I loved climbing trees, playing Army games, damming up the creek, turning over rocks to see what sort of bugs lived under them. As adults, introverts tend toward solitary play, while extroverts prefer group games. The main thing is this: Do not stop playing—even when you're old. Play that expresses the inner child is what keeps us alive in the truest sense, and it keeps our hearts connected to our playmates.
The upcoming holidays provide a great opportunity for play. Whatever you find fun and amusing (short of making a spectacle of yourself), I hope you will let that inner child of yours out for a romp.
In the Spirit,