Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Joy To Come

Our dog, Stella, has a collection of toys that we keep in a metal basket in the living room. She will go for weeks without thinking of them, but then, looking for something to do, I suppose, or for a way to engage my wife or me, will rummage through for just the right one, romp with it for a bit, gnaw on it, tantalize us with it, then finally leave it randomly on the floor. If we have company coming over, I might then put it right away, but typically I'll leave it out for a day or two because Stella takes such joy in "discovering" it again hours or days later. She'll spy it behind a chair and pounce on it, sometimes tossing it into the air, or maybe she'll give it a threatening growl before attacking. It's the accident of coming across it in these unexpected places, that makes it so much more fun.

The old Yiddish proverb, "Man plans, and God laughs," is usually applied those circumstances in which our plans are ruined, such as rain on our picnics or awaking with food poisoning on the days we meant to get things done. But it occurs to me that while we are often frustrated by our plans being thwarted by the unexpected, those accidents are just as likely to bring us joy.

Yesterday, I was watching a large group of children taking turns, hanging from the long metal bar that extends across the front of what we call "the stage." They were queuing up, some of them using a step stool to reach the bar, then one-by-one shimmying along it from one end to the other. They were referring to it among themselves as the "monkey bar." This bar is connected on either end to a pair of upright poles. There are another two poles on the back corners of the stage and a much taller one emerging from the ground in front of the stage.

As I listened to the children negotiate their game, the older, not always gently, teaching the younger about things like waiting in line and taking turns, I wondered what people might think of our set-up. Why are these poles here? The children regularly use them in their play, hanging from them, circling around them, tying things to them, attempting to climb them. They clearly bring joy, but at the same time they are clearly remnants from something that came before: not necessarily part of the plans.

Several years ago, a mother whose child was enjoying his parkour lessons suggested that we build a specialized climbing apparatus in an unused corner of the playground. I'm not a fan of climbers for school playgrounds because they tend to fall into disuse and then you're stuck with a big piece of inflexible equipment occupying a lot of precious space. When I hesitated at her idea, she said that not only would she pay for it, but that there would be no hard feelings if we decided to, in the future, remove it in favor of something else. So we wound up with a pretty magnificent parkour-style climber with bars at wacky angles. It was a popular thing at first, but then, as I expected, it fell into relative disuse after the children played the risk out of it. A year or so later, when we decided to build a platform (our playground otherwise had no flat ground), we removed the horizontal bars and built around the vertical ones, largely because they were set in concrete and presented a lot of extra work.

And now we have this happy accident in this corner of the playground, a place that no one would have planned, yet, in it's unexpectedness it brings such joy. God (or fate, if you'd rather) certainly does laugh at our plans, but he is not laughing at us. More often than not, I think, in the long run, he laughs with us, knowing the joy to come.

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