Play is the exultation of the possible. Martin Buber
It was the trees that first caught his attention, so many of them, and the colorful signs hanging from their branches and the metal star shimmering in the light, and then his eyes caught hold of something else, something made from deck boards nestled among those trees. It was a stage! He couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Grandma had a stage and he was free to play on it! And that’s what he did, back in early June, my just-turning-two-years-old grandson, Viren, on this, his first visit over to Joy Center during his six-week stay in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula this past summer. He played on that stage and his Grandma (yours truly), she played too. They stomped and they jumped and they marched and they sang — they did all this until he spied the rocks, the ones behind the stage, the big boulders hauled in from a gravel pit, big enough to be quite a climb for a two-year-old. There were mountains to summit and fairy houses to explore and wind chimes to ring and he hadn’t even skidaddled over to those front steps and through the door that his Grandma was now holding open for him, the door to a place she called the Joy Center.
And with a beckon and a call, this two-year-old king of play was drawn in because the door was open and there was more to explore. A kitchen with snacks and water from a well. A living room with a ceiling as high as the sky. There were rainbow-colored banners sweeping across that sunlit expanse and a wooden floor and no furniture at all and a perfect place to slide on stocking feet and to plod like an elephant and screech like a monkey and to order your grandma to hop like a bunny. This place was made for playing, with stairs to practice careful-climbing and a loft that was lofty and a room filled with hats in all shapes and sizes. This place was made for playing and Grandma, she was feeling quite puffed up, quite ready to it show off in its full-blown glory. So down they went, down the two flights of stairs, grandma and grandson, to the lower level, to soft comfy chairs and books to read and a whole room dedicated to glue sticks and glitter, to paper and crayons and paints, to so much stuff that by now, this Grandma, she knew that her grandson must be dazzled. She herself was dazzled seeing all this through the eyes of a two-year-old. “Grandma must be the coolest grandma in the world. Grandma works in a playhouse. Grandma plays for a living. Grandma plays at living!”
Grandma works at a playhouse! I delighted in saying this to Viren each time I would leave my home and walk the short distance to Joy Center this past June. “Grandma’s going to work!” I’d say as I scampered off to a yoga session. “I have to work now!” I’d sing as I waved good-bye on my way to Out Loud’s open mic night. Thank you, Viren, I say now as I remember all of this. Thank you for reminding me that Joy Center indeed is a playhouse. Thank you for reminding me of what I’ve always known, that play is a noble vocation, that it is expansive and high vibe, and, most of all, that it is downright fun. Thank you for being the inspiration as Joy Center buddies and I planned this year’s anniversary party. “Why not set up play stations?” Amber suggested. “What would Viren want to do?” Raja asked. So that’s what we did the other day as we celebrated the six year birthday of Grandma’s community playhouse. We set up play stations, created a nursery school for grown-ups and kids alike, with art and book-making and coloring and writing centers, with a market place of handmade treasures in the loft and a stage outside where we could hula-hoop. And snacks too because every playhouse worth its weight in fun needs to have a snack station with Sherri’s out-of-this-world-amazing finger-food meals and Adonna’s homemade chocolate!
And then we played. All afternoon and into the evening. We played in clusters around the art table creating books and collages. We played alone surrounded by the trees on the downstairs’ deck. We played in deep conversation and while shopping for the perfect item made with the loving hands of a friend. We played while cheering on the hula-hoopers and while taking a turn ourselves. We played while listening, while talking, while laughing, while eating, while singing, while breathing. We played in reverence and we played irreverently, and it all felt holy to me, this way that Joy Center was filled to its brim with the power of play.
Joy Center is a playhouse. This summer, Viren reminded me of that. And he also reminded me that there are a multitude of ways to play. Some are rousing and foot-stomping, and some are quiet and contemplative. Some take you deep inside yourself and some are expansive and wide-winged and as light as a hula-hop twirling through the air. And at Joy Center you are welcome to experience it all! Let’s play!