By Frank Wessling
Fun. Is there anything that so quickly and easily unites human beings?
The winter Olympic Games on television have given us a daily parade of activity with little or no use for us except as links to the simple joy of play time. There is the strain of competition, of course, and such gut-busting work as the long cross-country ski races, but even there we can imagine the exhilaration of winners feeling new heights of achievement.
The long-haired American snowboard champion Shaun White may be closest to the ideal that inspires these international games. What he does, riding a small board over snow up and down the sides of a giant half-cylinder, has no purpose except fun. You get on that board and let your energy and imagination soar. Your playmates are gravity and balance, and you revel in the back and forth challenge. Each leap, each flip, twist and thrust is exuberant life celebrating a deep call to reach beyond limits.
It’s not heaven but it feels like God’s front porch.
White’s behavior on the gold medal platform as he received the champion’s honors remained in the key of fun. Here was the boy who would have openly waved to his parents from the stage during a kindergarten performance. He made an effort to be still and solemn during the national anthem but it was out of character.
The point of it all is the playing, the fun, the games, the buoyant joy that keeps us pointed beyond limits that seem to define ordinary life. We knew this when we were children, and it may be why we learned so much so fast in those years. The rhythm of our lives, with time for play and free experimenting, kept us open to the infinite. We weren’t constricted by the burdens and expectations of responsibility.
So the lesson of the Olympic Games is this: If there’s no play in your life, nothing that happens just for the fun of it to enjoy with others, be careful. You may be losing your soul.
There is grim, ugly, painful reality that imprisons millions of people with starvation, disease, war, brutal oppression and fear. We can know this and still remember, still celebrate the fun, the joy of life as it should be.