Play is the Dress Rehearsal for Eternity
Zygmunt Bauman wrote that play is the dress rehearsal for eternity. His point centered on two important points. First, play is governed by agreed upon rules that, if broken, breaks the very essence of play and is, thereupon, subject to penalty or even the end of the game itself. Secondly, time is important only to the game and within the confines of the game. When the game is over, the meaning of time ceases to be of any importance. Every moment within the game is a new beginning, every new game, a new allotment of time.
To play, in this sense, is to understand the very foundations of the existential life; the very life lived withing the boundaries of existential time; each life with a clear starting point and a clear ending point. Every moment lived is a new beginning within the confines of the existential life. Every moment is a moment of genesis, of renewal.
Given this analogy, can a life well lived be considered one resembling a game? Until I read Bauman’s analysis I didn’t think so but now there is some room for consideration. Play is absolutely natural for children. They can play in isolation or together, make-up rules and break them only to make-up a whole new set of rules again. They act with energy and creativity as they laugh with and at each other. They are unambiguously engaged in a welcoming practice, one in which only they are privy to the governing rules.
As we grow older, games played are more formal. Baseball, for example, has a long history of rules, umpires to enforce those rules and teams and leagues to organize the game. From little league to the major leagues, the game changes very little. What changes is not the game; the game is embedded in the rules. Each game played is a new beginning, a brand new opportunity to get it right. On the other hand, each game is also primed with the very roots of failure and, as such, each new game provides fertile ground for revenge, improvement or both. But each game is a new beginning, a fresh start as it were compressed withing a set number of innings, outs, balls, strikes and hits. No game is the same as the one before it. No game is ever played in exactly the same way. What changes, albeit in small increments, would be the skill of the players engaged in the game. Otherwise the game is the game, self-contained, self-limiting and final.
When Bauman references play as a rehearsal for eternity he is talking about a full life, one lived without fear of the other, the alien among us, the stranger next door. He is envisioning a life lived free of the bureaucratic nigglings brought about by a xenophobic fear of the other. He is thinking about a world in which mis-apprehension is set aside, where mis-meetings in which the gaze is diverted are avoided. In the societal world of play, the joy of life is apprehended in lieu of the profound sadness and isolation prevalent in the modern world.
Play allows for each human being to live in this very moment. It allows for the joy of discovery, creativity and accomplishment without requiring a forced isolation from the other due to the apprehension of difference. Play erases difference, allowing for the embrace of that very quality rather than a pushing away. In this very moment I shall continue to play and thereby live a full and contented life.