Monday, March 06, 2017

Falling Happily Into One Another's Orbits


It's a game that regularly pops up, year-in-year out. All you need is a rope or a strip of fabric or anything long and flexible. We once played it with a cord we'd cut off a decrepit vacuum cleaner. In the case of the kids in these pictures, it's a piece of decorative mesh that's been getting underfoot since before the December holidays.


The game requires at least two people. Sometimes that's the right number but often it includes a half dozen or more. Everyone grabs ahold and doesn't let go no matter what. Beyond that, the "rules" of what comes next vary from game to game in an ad hoc manner. It usually starts out with the classic tug-o-war with everyone pulling against one another, every man for himself, but invariably the game turns cooperative and that's when the real fun begins.


A classic move is to run, which is not so easy to do when everyone is connected like that. Sometimes people fall when it gets going too fast. Adjusts are made as the kids and their collective intuition find a speed that works for everyone. It's a wordless process, although not silent, what with all the shrieks and laughter. 


There are sometimes conflicts and objections, but those most often arise from the innocent bystanders who find themselves involuntarily roped into the rowdy game. These become another kind of obstacle  to navigate.


The game usually reflects some version of follow-the-leader with one playmate taking the others on a wild ride about the place, getting tangled around tree trunks, swing sets, and other obstacles, then getting untangled, then getting tangled again. The "leader" of the moment is typically determined by whoever lurches off in a new direction first. When there are just two of them, it turns into an impromptu turn-taking process whereby first one then the other takes the lead, but as the game grows larger the process by which the group chooses which impulsive lurch to follow appears as a kind of miracle, much in the way birds or bees amaze us as they flock or swarm.


The opportunity to vie or compete is there, and while that may be where it often starts, the endgame is always cooperative as these individual suns around whom the earth revolves fall happily into one another's orbits.


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