To learn to play…

A number of years ago, there was a series on TV called SG-1, one of the Stargate series. We didn’t watch it at the time, but our son bought the series and has gotten us started on it.

Earlier this week we watched an episode titled “Learning Curve.” Briefly, the team has traveled to a planet as part of an exchange program of sharing knowledge. In the course of their contacts, the team discovers that a particular group of children in that planet are repositories of incredible knowledge–they are the ones who learn. However, they also discover a couple of troubling aspects of that situation: (1) these children are implanted with minute devices (nanites) in their brains when they are infants, a device that greatly enhances their ability to learn; (2) when the child approaches what we would call puberty, the nanites are removed and placed in adults, and the child loses all the knowledge they had. They are warehoused–taken care of well, but with no stimulation.

The team returns to earth with an 11-year-old who teaches them how to build a complicated reactor–and they discover that she has no knowledge of fun or play. Knowing what her future holds, they struggle with returning her to her home planet–and she does not understand their concern. Before she can be returned, the team commander disobeys orders and takes the child, Merrin, off the base to spend an afternoon at school–learning to play games and to draw. And then Merrin returns.

The team members are upset about Merrin’s future–but then they receive an urgent call to travel to the planet. When they arrive, the adult they have interacted with before greets them with more exuberance than previously shared and takes them to the place where the children are kept–and they discover them happily playing, drawing. The afternoon that Merrin spent in the school has significantly changed lives of all the members of the society, since her nanites learned about “fun” and carried that knowledge with them as they were transplanted.

And it got me thinking about the importance of play. It’s not just something children do when they’re little. We all need to remember–or to learn–how to do it.

I struggle with this sometimes. I catch myself wishing I could run and play and dance with the abandon of a child…and wondering why I can’t give myself release to do so.

I think sometimes I’m too afraid of what someone else might think…afraid I’ll look ridiculous…or will fall…or………….

But maybe…just maybe…I need to pay more attention to that child in me that wants out. Jenny Joseph has expressed it well in her poem “Warning”:


When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.