“To play is to seek connection, a dance partner, another with whom to laugh.”
I’m passionately into many things but if I had to distil my list down to a three, they would be: love, excellence, and playfulness.
All are antidotes to existential confusion.
Krista Tippett, the theologian and host of radio’s On Being said, “We can insist on delight as a virtue,” and, oh, I agree. Delight! As a virtue! I want to be repeatedly delighted in this lifetime. So much of what we do, in our work, as partners, as friends and parents, so much is sensible, considered, and staggeringly gown-up.
I yearn for more playfulness and do what I can to usher in delight. I gravitate toward playful people like a plant does sunlight. I used to value intellect above play but now as I’m aging I see how wrong this was. To be playful is to have a delicious perspective. To be playful is to embody a touch of the wild, a touch of freedom and wonder. To play is to seek connection, a dance partner, another with whom to laugh.
I met a Play Master in late 2014. (Stay with me as this story wends a bit.) On the coattails of a friend, I ended up at the funeral of Lady Soames at Westminster Abbey in London. She was the last remaining child of Winston Churchill, and the funeral was an extraordinary experience. It was majestic and opulent, yet intimate. Royals, prime ministers, dignitaries, clergy, British aristocracy and riff-raff like myself crammed the pews. The outfits were off the charts, the faces fascinating and ancient. Dignity hummed low and wide as the defining ingredient.
I was moved to see Churchill’s grandchildren touch their foreheads or hearts as they circled around their grandfather’s burial place in the aisle of the Abbey, and walk on toward the coffin of their mother.
Who was it who so poignantly said, “We are all just holding hands as we walk each other home”?
Lady Soames was obviously an exceptional woman on many fronts but in the eulogies her sense of fun was mentioned time and again. I never met her but her funeral made me think I’d really missed out. Her priest told us when he came to perform her last rites that she asked for a gin and tonic with twinkling eyes and a smile. I like her style.
At the end of the service we all were herded out into the grey afternoon and as the British are wont to do, we flocked into the surrounding bars to drink in honor of the dead and to fend off our own mortal chills.
I stood near the bar, cradling a G&T and talking to my friend, and our attention was pulled by a recognizably glorious voice. A few feet away was the actor Robert Hardy. An old man now, but still vital, talking animatedly to a young male companion. You may know Hardy from Harry Potter, All Creatures Great and Small, Sense and Sensibility, or any number of film and stage productions. I’d never met him in person but his body of work has contributed to the river of my life.
I passionately believe in saying thank you, in saluting beauty, in acknowledging wonder. I generally do this via a letter, which sits more comfortably with my disposition and counters my fears of appearing like a sycophant, but sometimes a moment is offered up in life and we just need to kick fear to the ground and go forward, express gratitude, then dissolve unobtrusively.
Hardy’s companion went to the bar to get more drinks so I walked toward Robert and told him as succinctly as I could that I think his work is ace. His whole being smiled and he said, “But how lovely you are to take the time, please do stay and meet my nephew and let us drink together.” So the four of us fell in together and dashed about conversations like ecstatic dancers. Hardy is a master of play and every offer was gathered up and adorned. Literal and metaphorical tables were climbed on, arms were encircled, cheeks were kissed, food consumed, Shakespeare incanted down cobbled streets, life force expanded, stories shot into the sky like fireworks. Friendship was formed and kinship forged by our laughter.
We four struck a match together, and the wildfire that blazed was fueled by our spirit of collective play. A strange confluence of events, meeting a sort-of stranger in a pub, after the funeral of a woman I’d never met. I still look back on this adventure and see myself fizzing and utterly joy-drenched.