Monday, July 4, 2011
The other day, we had about seven or eight kids galumphing around our house. They organized themselves into a game of sardines. I was milling around, probably performing some mundane household chore, and ran into them often throughout their play. Sarah (I will use aliases to protect their identities) hid in Dobradishu's bunk bed. It took a while, but, one by one, they all found her and celebrated and moved on to the next round. It was the perfect picture of childlike innocence in recreation.
A few rounds down the line, however, I realized that things were changing. Whenever I passed a kid, he or she would stop me and whisper fiercely, "Have you seen Jimmy?" I turned them all away. Jimmy hid downstairs beneath the sewing table and wasn't hard for me to see, but I didn't want to ruin anyone's fun by taking sides.
Dobradishu and Vivian van Luno (I like this whole alias thing) bumped into each other in the entry in the midst of this round. Dobradishu put her hands on Vivian van Luno's shoulders. "Do you know where Jimmy is?" she asked, starting intently in Vivian's eyes. "No," she answered very seriously. Dobradishu considered her suspiciously. Vivian offered her hand. "Best friend handshake swear." They performed their ceremony solemnly and parted without another word.
My work moved me downstairs near Jimmy's chosen lair. It surprised me to see that no one else was hiding with him. He was grinning widely, sitting silently and contently, surrounded by scrap fabric. I noticed that The Emperor of Terrible Damage was curiously flitting around the room, apparently searching but always orbiting Jimmy's hiding spot. When Sarah, Vivian van Luno, Poe and le Marquis de St. Cyr began scavenging the basement, The Emperor of Terrible Damage assured them that Jimmy wasn't anywhere around there and encouraged them to search elsewhere. Dobradishu, catching sight of the top of Jimmy's head, confirmed Emperor of Terrible Damage's statement and began to shepherd the rest upstairs.
After about fifteen minutes of this tomfoolery, it became apparent that every single player in the game knew exactly where Jimmy was and, instead of hiding with him as tradition demands, they were employing every tactic they knew to deceive one another into looking somewhere else. EVERY single one knew where he was. And he remained alone, crouching under the table and grinning silently to himself. It was quite a curious impasse.
The game broke up after everyone realized the vicious cycle that was circling, someone suggested they should play somewhere else, and the house was very soon quiet. My thoughts were left to ricochet off the walls of vacant rooms and make frustrated echos.
Are those kids just at the age (they were all between six and eleven, I think) when they take more stock in winning than completing the game? Does everyone go through this transition from innocence to playful deception? Does that harmless deceit inevitably develop into what we know as "the natural man"? All that seriousness in the game startled me. It was the real deal. They were intent on being the only ones who won.
I have no conclusion to this post because I do not want to conclude either that the world is losing its innocence or that innocence is unfailingly lost with each generation. I open this up to your perspectives and comments, good readers. Give me peace of mind.