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April 11, 2013

Insights and Outbursts: The importance of play at any age

Not long ago, I read the following quotation on www.spiritualityandpractice.com, and I forwarded it to several friends:

“Play is as essential to the aged as it is to the young. I count that day lost when I am not moved to tears or laughter, but even more if I have not played.” (George Sheehan in “Going the Distance.”)

One friend, who runs up Mt. Washington each year and came in first in her age group in the Boston Marathon several years ago, informed me that Sheehan, a cardiologist, author and record-setting marathon runner, wrote several books on running and she had read them all.

I’m not a runner, but “playing” is as important to me now as it was when I was young. I enjoy skiing, golf, bowling and shooting pool weekly with friends and firmly believe that everyone is born with a unique capacity to enjoy life regardless of circumstances.

In my case, I’ve been encouraged and supported by the peace, wisdom and joy I’ve found in books, music, retreats and Elderhostel programs. (Full disclosure: For many years, I’ve also carried a kite and a Frisbee in the trunk of my car; you never know when or where you’ll find kindred spirits.)

Last month, I read Sheehan’s book “Going the Distance: one man’s journey to the end of his life.”

Diagnosed with inoperable cancer in 1986, he died in 1993, but during that time, wrote a series of essays described as an “eloquent and unabashed celebration of the athlete in all of us.”

It’s one of the most enjoyable books I’ve ever read, and I treasured the author’s spirituality, including the following words toward the end: “As we grow in experience and wisdom we construct our own church … Christ the athlete is a marvelous model. I can forget about original sin and concentrate on my original splendor.”

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