I’ve just finished reading Richard Reeves’ great blog post on Playfulness, and it’s inspired me in turn to write.
There’s an an old saying “We don’t stop playing because we get old – we get old because we stop playing“. It’s certainly true that as folk get older they can tend to forget how to play with the mindfulness, sponteneity and joyfulness of children.
It’s perhaps ironic that ‘fun’ has become an engineered thing in some organisations – a kind of forced group activity that lacks the very spirit of play it’s intended to engender.
Play – genuine, spontaneous, and heartfelt play – is definitely a source of strength, resilience, creativity and inspiration. But it can’t be engineered – only encouraged. It’s a mindset, not a map. And it needs to be a philosopy of life, not some kind of mandated policy.
Spending time with children is always a great reminder of the power of play – it’s almost impossible to remain unplayful in their presence. But there are also grown-ups who’ve not forgotten the magic.
I remember Shirley, a wonderful woman and the mother of a friend of mine, who always brought the light of play into her own and others’ lives until she passed away at 60+ years young. She’d not forgotten her six-year-old self, and she helped others re-discover their own capacity for play.
And at those times she and those around her would become ‘lost in the unfolding’ as Richard so eloquently expressed it.
As I read Richard’s post I found my head filled with memories of Shirley. And I also remember the playfulness she brought to much more serious things. She contracted cancer that proved incurable, so the last year of her life was a time you wouldn’t think would lend itself to playing.
But Shirley’s indomitable spirit meant she created fun even as she fought a losing battle with her illness.
Shirley wore them all, returning to the gift-givers her own gifts of love and laughter.
She even had fun ‘playing’ with arranging her own funeral. Dickering over details with various funeral parlours. laughing over the stuffiness of some, and being as cheekily provocative as only Shirley could be until she found one she liked.
On the day of Shirley’s funeral, there was standing room only for the last folk to arrive. The chapel was packed. Family members and friends spoke of the difference Shirley had made in their lives – and I don’t think there was a dry eye in the room.
But at the end of the service, as we were about to leave, the song Shirley had chosen to end the service rang through the chapel. It was Always Look on the Bright Side of Death from the Monty Python Life of Brian movie!
It was Shirley’s last playful gift to us all. And we found ourselves smiling through our tears.