The Difference Between Playing and Watching

Yesterday I went to my grandson’s baseball game. Twenty to thirty people of all ages gathered around a manicured field of grass and dirt to watch nine year olds play. Because it was the last game of a tournament, at the end the teams gathered on the field to receive their trophies. Parents and grandparents were ready with cameras and smart phones to record the accomplishment and show their approval. As Nancy and I were leaving the field, a man about my age looked at me and said, “we are so lucky to have grandchildren to give us life”. I did not respond to the man.

I understand that children have to grow up and become independent. Nevertheless, I am nostalgic for the times when I and my grandchildren played together. Whether it was an afternoon in the attic, lying on an old futon mattress and making up stories; or, walking into town for ice cream and coming back to the house for a sleepover, these were times when we played together. I don’t like watching them play.

I am old. I turned seventy-two this week. I am selfish. I want my grandchildren to come out and play, to remain young and dependent on me, the adult. I want them to play my games, and not go off and start this business of becoming adults!

Carl Jung had ideas about this business of play and going off to become an adult. This is fresh in my mind because I am just returned from Canada where I performed, Imagining the World of Carl Jung. As a young boy, Jung enjoyed playing in the natural world. He tells stories in Memories, Dreams, Reflections about his play in the world dominated by earth, air, fire and water, the basic elements of nature. His play in the natural world came to an end when at the age of ten he was sent to the city to be educated. There he discovered another part of Carl Jung. He tells about the recognition of two persons in himself, personality number one and personality number two. Personality number one was preoccupied with doing well in school, making his parents proud of their son, and being liked by the teachers and students in school. Personality number two cared nothing for this world of social achievement. Personality number two was still happy to be alone in the natural world, the world of dreams and imagination!

Jung suggests that to live a whole life, to fulfill individuation, we have to allow personality number one to take over a place of prominence during the adult years of life, the years when we find a career, create a family and achieve goals in this human life. But sometime in the second half of life, we have to find our way back to the world of personality number two, to the world of play, to the world of imagination, to the world of dreams. This idea is nicely put in a Balinese proverb that says something like this: the young and the old have much in common, the young have only recently arrived from heaven and the old are about to return.

So I guess I should not be too hard on my grandchildren, they are just coming to the age of personality number one . It is the time for them to play games where they win trophies and bathe in the applause of admiring audiences. I will do my best to temporarily put aside my personality number two and become part of the admiring audience that watches them play games.

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