, Gloucester, MA

April 11, 2013

Insights and Outbursts: The importance of play at any age

Insights and Outbursts
Eileen Ford

---- — Not long ago, I read the following quotation on, 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.”

I’ve visited the Weston Priory in Vermont many times and bought CDs played and sung by the monks, but my favorite one is “Listen” because the first stanza always moves me: “Listen and gentle be present to all you’ve ever close kept in your loving heart! Try to remember the moments when you felt clearly the gift to be truly alive!”

Several years ago, I read, “Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life: How to Finally, Really Grow Up,” by James Hollis, Ph.D and found the following words inspiring: “Finding what supports you from within will link you to transcendence, reframe the perspectives received from your history, and provide the agenda of growth, purpose, and meaning that we all are meant to carry into the world and to share with others.”

One of the most memorable retreats I’ve ever made was “Transitions — A Prelude to Something New” at the Notre Dame Mission Center in Ipswich. Led by Sister Ellen Keane, SND in 2003, it covered three stages of the process: endings, in-between times and beginnings.

Life itself involves a series of transitions.

In her book “The Other Side of Chaos: Breaking Through when life is Breaking Down,” Margaret Silf, one of my favorite authors and retreat directors, also speaks of times when we are between what was and what will be:

“The journey will ask us to risk walking this shifting landscape of change and transition without trying to pin our life – or our faith – down into neat securities,” she writes. “It will challenge us to acknowledge that the state of change and flux is the reality that underpins all existence and that if God is real, then God is right there in the flux.”

For me, play is as essential as prayer, and I’m grateful that I’ve lived long enough to realize that life, with all its changes, is a gift worth celebrating — at any age.

Eileen Ford is a Rockport resident and a regular Times columnist.