Adventure Around the Next Corner
Does “around the next corner” sound enticing to you? Does it sound scary? Our reactions will vary, which recalls a childhood game that my siblings and I played with our cousins and friends. On lovely summer evenings, as dusk slowly dimmed to dark, we would gather on the front steps of our old, four-square farmhouse to play “Ten Steps Around.” The child chosen to be “It” would slip away to hide behind one of the trees or bushes that dotted the farmhouse lawn. The rest of us would start our journey around the house with ten free strides and then carry on with cautious starts and stops, keeping close to the walls at every point. Our object was to travel around the four sides of the house and back to its front steps without being seen in motion by the person who was “It.” “It” could be hiding anywhere on the lawn, making each move a risk, especially as the light faded. Yet, no steps were riskier than the ones taken with the least information about where the threat lay — the first steps around each corner.
As players, we revealed aspects of our personalities and characters at the corners. Some of us would round the corners “casting caution to the wind” — as we say — relying on bravado more than observational skills. Those foolhardy few seldom made it to the goal before “It” would discover them in motion and send them back to the front steps to start their journeys again. On the other hand, some of us would linger long at the corners, needing to feel safe before moving. Someone was sure to reach the goal well before a risk-averse player. Thus, the wary were no more successful than the foolhardy. Those of us who, overall, were neither too foolhardy nor too wary sometimes lost and sometimes won. In either case, we were absorbed in the game — the fun lay somewhere between foolhardiness on one side and wariness on the other. In that space, each turn of a corner was the next adventure.
Living life with a sense of adventure, with profound and confident engagement in our experiences, is a gift. Living life shackled by doubts, fears, and hesitations, on the other hand, can be misery. That is the kind of life that T. S. Eliot depicted in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Eliot’s poem is a jagged record of Prufrock’s thoughts, with abrupt starts and stops as Prufrock imagines bold steps, realizes that he lacks confidence, and collapses in self-recrimination. Haunted by the insignificance of his own life, Prufrock imagines that others must pity or even despise him. He cannot disagree. “I have heard the mermaids singing each to each,” he says, but he adds sadly, “I do not think they will sing to me.”
I can think of no greater contrast with an adult alienated from life’s enchantment than a child absorbed in play. Although deep engagement in play appears commonplace, parents and educators know that a child’s engagement is the happy product of complex factors. True, individual personality and character play a role, but so do such things as practical competence, suitable self-confidence, and appropriate tolerance of failure. Moreover, we understand that children develop these qualities best in an environment that is saturated with loving-kindness and where the challenges are neither too great nor too small. Indeed, children owe their sense of adventure not only to themselves but also to the people around them.
Adults play a role in creating environments that help children approach life with a sense of adventure rather than with doubts, fears, and hesitations. We accept this. To what extent should we accept a corresponding responsibility for adults? How would our communities — even our province — change if we decided that life lived as an adventure should be available to everyone? After all, as we know from games, we have the most fun when everyone is fully engaged.
Lloyd Den Boer is a retired educator who lives with his wife in Edmonton. Their next adventure will be a long-postponed visit to see grandchildren in the United States. May the fourth attempt succeed!