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Do you play anymore?

We do not play enough. To remember how to play is a blessing, to be reminded of how to play is a gift. To forget work and all immediate responsibilities and to simply play is blasphemy in our society, even though science shows how important free and spontaneous play can be for children and equally adults. In our world of chaos and confusion we can replace those notions with places of solitude and adventure- giving space for reflection and freedom of spirit.

It begins with a reminder of the glory of youth, fearlessness, and recklessness by an adolescent boy with the spirit of summer. This is what I am in search of.

Sea caves of Madeline Island

He was the essence of youth in his intensity and eagerness to kayak and explore Lake Superior that day. It started with an early morning of dreamy waters. The lake was ours only and the sun lit the path of every underwater tunnel and sea cave that could possibly be explored. With the warmest waters I was going to feel all summer we made a point of it to make the moments last. It was these lit paths of underwater tunnels that ignited the spirit of a young man. He appreciated the challenge as any 17-year old athlete would. He was confident coming into the experience and I hadn’t yet wrapped my mind around what was actually going to happen. We swam into the cave, "Free Spirit", his friend, and I.

“The elements of chance and danger are wonderful and frightening to experience and, though I bemoan the recklessness of youth, I wonder what the world would be like without it. I know it is wrong, but I am for the spirit that makes young men do the things they do. I am for the glory that they know,” -Yi Fu Tuan in Romantic Geography

A beam of light lit our path, as clearly as the yellow brick road. I swam around the point to the other side to ensure the opening was clear. It took me a minute to swim to the other side and as I did I yelled out to let them know the opening was clear. When I received no response, I yelled out again, before I could finish my sentence up popped, who I only know as, "Free Spirit", gasping for air with the look of pure joy on his face. Shocked, I look at him, treading water, curious to what just happened and why he hadn’t waited. I couldn’t be mad because he was safe and I was equally committed. I also realized by the look on his face, he wasn’t going for round two. He described the feeling to me, the depth it took to make it to the opening and how hard he had to kick to make it through before his 30 seconds of air ran out. He looks at me, still catching wind and says, “YOU HAVE TO TRY IT!” Like “it” was a new flavor of Mountain Dew I had to taste. I look at him with complete fear in my chest and excitement flooding my brain, and say, “Stay right here, and mark the opening for me.” As I swim back across the point, the thoughts that run through my head are, “Why am I doing this?” and “I can’t let this kid show me up,” and “There’s no turning back, commit to this, you’ll be fine.” As I finished my self-motivating pep talk I near the other side, his timid friend, still working up courage, watches me as I take three deep breaths and disappear below the lit turquoise waters. We wear no goggles, we wear no flippers, and we bring only our capacity of breath and an able body. My eyes are saucers under the water. I fiercely swim as I realize, fifteen seconds in, my life now depends on it- I have come too far to turn back. I can see the beam of light shining through the opening the entire time. I begin to feel like I’m nearing the opening and I make the swim up the eight feet I had swum down. My arms are now stretched in front of me searching for the opening and the feeling of dread returns. I realize- it’s ceiling, all ceiling. In milliseconds I return to the original plan of fiercely kicking and paddling and every two or three seconds re-assess my place within the tunnel. In a matter of moments I am through the tunnel peering out into the eyes of a true free spirit and the waters of Lake Superior looking out towards Michigan Island. It is glorious and I am entirely alive. We share the moment together, the aliveness of it all- the closest feeling to death and birth we have both experienced. The act of it appears dangerous but in reality our ability exceeded the risk. With a new respect for our morning and the lake we swim across the point, returning to the rest of the group and his timid friend. His friend is asked, “So, would you like to give it a try?” His response is instant and firm, “No, thank you, I’m good for the day on that.” We all chuckle and swim back to the moms and dads, girlfriends and sisters and ponder at it on the cliffs of Big Bay.

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