Friday, March 17
¡Hola, kind reader!
I’m in Chile this week for a Travel+Leisure reporting trip, so this is really more of a postcard than a full letter.
I got to bring Tristan with me on this trip, and I’m so thankful. Even though this is a work trip, I’ve been hoping that we might find some good rest and respite from everything else we’ve had going on in our lives recently. We’re only one full day into our time in Chile, but I can happily say that we’ve accomplished that already.
Also, in the game room of Vik, this beautiful winery where we’re staying, there was this wondrous table that I wish I could stash in my luggage and bring home with me:
All these things conspired to remind me that, as curmudgeonly and cranky as I can be sometimes, we all need to play. Scientists now understand play to be essential for young people’s growth. How about for the rest of us? I wonder whether we adults underemphasize our need for play.
I confess I’m not even particularly comfortable saying that, because in the culture of my upbringing, “play” was seen as frivolous, as luxurious, as unserious. But I’ve come to realize that we all need play for our well-being. Play is so necessary to create harmony in our hearts. Even—perhaps especially—in times of stress or of sadness, we all need to have our spirits diverted by delight. Even—perhaps especially—when so much in this world feels weighty or burdensome, we all need to have our selves lifted and reoriented, if only for a few moments.
Play reminds us of possibility. Play fuels the imagination. Play tells us a story about ourselves that is more than work, more than productivity, more than what we do, more than how we are useful. Play points us toward wholeness.
Today we found this nourishment in the rush of a few minutes at the ping-pong table, and I confess to you that one of my happiest moments in quite a while was darting into the vines and hiding out and sneaking a handful of grapes before anyone told me I could. Where the Cabernet grapes were tannic and almost astringent (yes, of course I tried those too), the Carménère burst with gorgeous sweetness. I could have sat in that vineyard and earned my status as a vineyard pest: Each little grape was better than candy.
You might find healing play in the beauty of a breathtaking climb onto a mountain ridge or in the pages of a novel that, if you were to tell someone else about it, you’d feel pressed (unnecessarily, but whatever) to label it a “guilty pleasure.” You might knit or sketch or color your way to playfulness, or maybe you really do want to break out the Legos. (I think sometimes about Congressman Andy Kim’s confession on Twitter that he put a Lego Millennium Falcon set on his wedding registry.) For a time, some of us found play in the daily rhythms of Wordle, though I wonder whether the need to keep a streak going can, for some of us, replace some of the pleasure with something approaching duty.
However you tap into your playful side, my wish for you this week is that you might find, somewhere, somehow, a few moments that cheer you and remind you of goodness and grace. Go outside—outside your normal routine, outside your stresses and your anxieties, outside your endless to-do lists and your overflowing inboxes and your never-ending sense of obligation—and play.
That’s all I’ve got for you this week. As ever, I’m so glad we can stumble through all this together, and I’ll try to write again soon.
I recommend "Play" by Stuart Brown. He goes through the science of play and confirms what you intuited. (Full confession, one year I felt that "play" was my word for that year and I was so embarrassed by it... now, far on the other side - older, maybe a wee bit wiser? - I see enrichment.)
You just called me back to a time long ago sitting inside my grandmother's Concord grape arbor; being with cousins, spinning tales and eating the purple fruit provided by our playhouse! I needed that today more than I can say. Thank you.