Exit Ramp: The playground of life

Exit Ramp: The playground of life

Running around on the playground as a child was as empowering as it was entertaining. I’d sail down the slide like nobody’s business, and while the swings and monkey bars made me believe I was invincible, I bear multiple scars to prove otherwise.

Hopscotch was among my playground favorites, in part because I was pretty good at it, and being good at something was practically currency out there. In my innocence, I had no idea it would serve as the perfect metaphor for my future adult life.

Time passes differently in our youth. We mark it forward — in the approach to birthdays and later bedtimes, summer vacations, and graduations that can’t come quickly enough. We race through the hours, months, and years, looking ahead to the moment when we’ll be masters of our own kingdoms. As adults, we dream of unloading some of that weight of the world, grateful it is God, not we, running the show. We plead for more hours in a day to get things done, or to stop the clock altogether, to hit rewind in order to caution our younger selves to slow down.

Meanwhile, we hop between our ongoing daily obligations and both planned and unexpected periods of intensity. There are only rare lulls when we’re busy with neither, when we have the luxury of setting both feet on the blacktop. It’s for this reason grown-up hopscotch, like its playground partner, is best played with others. We need cheerleaders at any age. They catch us when we teeter, lift us up when we fall, and encourage us to leap to the next square when it seems out of reach. They help us see the blessings around us and within ourselves. And they are the ones, to paraphrase the Book of Isaiah, who help make the crooked straight in our lives.

Our human connections imbue even our basic responsibilities with meaning. Carpool means we’re caring for our family, deadlines that we’re contributing to society, membership dues that we’re helping to sustain a community. They fortify us as we face the highs and lows in our lives, too — the lifecycle events that merit space in our synagogue bulletins.

So we jump with an open heart between one another’s milestones. We dance arm-in-arm in celebration, send lasagnas back and forth in crisis, mourn together in loss, and try to connect over coffee in between. Wounds come in all shades of black and blue, from the tragic to the merely inconvenient, from the irrevocable to the sorts that soon heal themselves. It’s in those moments that we step up to handle the hard tasks for one another, not only because chesed — kindness — is a basic tenet of Judaism or part of our social contract with all of humanity, but because we want to. It’s the gift of balance we give one another in an increasingly imbalanced world.

Because I’m all grown up and my boys are already teenagers, I hardly make it to the playground anymore. Yet once in a while, when I think no one is looking, I’ll sit on a swing and soar as high as I can. I’ll try to touch the clouds, just as I did when I was a little girl, hoping to recapture the sense of invincibility I felt then. By now, of course, I know that control is elusive, as fleeting as youth itself. Life’s mysteries tend to unfold on their own, without asking us whether it’s a good time, or consulting us to see if we’re ready or have other plans.

All we can do is pray that the chapters of our story will reveal themselves in the right order until we reach 120 years, as the Jewish saying goes. Our parents will age and we’ll care for them. Our children will grow up and embrace us as they move on to the next stages of their lives. Our souls will find greater perspective, even as our bodies begin to require more intensive daily maintenance.  

Meanwhile, we go from square to square, from the everyday to the celebratory to whatever else life brings, because that’s what there is in this world. What a blessing we’re not hopping around alone.

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