“All animals, except man, know that the principal business of life is to enjoy it.” ~ Samuel Butler
The other day I overheard a mother say to her son, “Oh, you’re just being silly, aren’t you?” He was goofing off and giggling in the most delightfully innocent and innocuous of ways. The mother’s tone was kind and intention heartfelt. But there was something stirring in her word “just” that struck me deep, an old shallow story that still saturates adult minds.
That play is somehow frivolous is a belief still holding true for many. And yet ask any adult how hard play is for them. Ask them how easily they let themselves sing and dance spontaneously, how freely they dream, how fully they give themselves to their laughter. How freely and often do adults climb trees with or without their kids, rip-roar into an impromptu kazoo solo or duet, leap from couch to counter avoiding the dreaded quicksand-floor, skip over or onto lines on the sidewalk, or shamelessly talk about poo with an eager four-year old longer than the child cares to? How willing are adults to become unbridled, unashamed, unapologetic in their native wildness?
I saw two young boys delight in such ecstasy while feeding their father carrots. Piece after piece was shoved into the doting man’s mouth as they all sunk intoxicatingly into a gleeful forever moment. Whatever troubles you may have been harboring would have vanished in an instant if you’d had the sheer pleasure of witnessing such abandon, of being in their disarmed presence.
No, this was not just silliness; this was pure aliveness intermingled within family, and beyond. It was a gift as unbounded as ravens and sky, and as resonantly powerful as reverberations of a tossed pebble that somehow instantly touch you across a lake. It was a wake up call to passersby from the doldrums of waiting for the bank teller, prosaic chitchat and habitual screen time. This was far from just in the same way a woman is not just a stay-at-home mom (as we often say/hear). With senses untethered, many might say it was the most beautiful thing they’d witnessed in a while.
Let’s be careful about this word just, for in it lays a certain level of disrespect and misunderstanding of how powerful the ludic nature of silliness is. In a world increasingly bent on the seriousness of “productivity”, on turning kids into something they are not, and on removing play spaces and play time, it is easy to dilute and discount the unquantifiable gifts of ecstatic expression.
It is present moment joy that we ultimately seek and long for. In all our pursuits, from Porsche’s to pay raises to cruises and that next lover, it is this effervescent yet grounded feeling that matters most. For adults, it is the end game. But with children this feeling exists as ever-bubbling, ever-present. This is their great art, their mastery, their mystery, what we so often fail to revere and learn from. It is their continuous reminder of what life is all about.
“If people did not sometimes do silly things, nothing intelligent would ever get done.” ~ Ludwig Wittgenstein
* * *
Check out Vince’s book: Let the Fire Burn ~ Nurturing the Creative Spirit of Children, A Children’s Book for Adults