On Air Hockey and Dirt

Each afternoon, or often in the evening, I come downstairs and challenge Brooke, my wife of thirteen years, to a game of air hockey. Her dad gave us the table for Christmas, and we play with our girls but we also play each other. Most often, I play left-handed so the game is more even, and this way I can try as hard as I can and we have a close game. I may be the best non-dominant hand air hockey player on my block.

During this time of quarantine, air hockey has become a ritual of sorts for us, like prayer and exercising are rituals. We don’t have a set time, and it’s either when I’m done with work or on a break in the afternoons when my energy lags and I need to move. But the play is the important thing.

In the rush of news, and news conferences, and expert opinions, and stress, and even in death, play becomes an act of — not protest, but perhaps revolt. Or, I like rebellion better. Play is an act of rebellion. The protestor is serious and acknowledging her rights, and the revolutionary is trying to start something new that will do away with the old. The rebel is simply showing that things can be done a different way, and should be tried a different way, but isn’t after those who set things up in the old way.

The one who plays when all is serious is the one who helps show that life is worth living:  we’re tempted to become so serious and anxious that we live only for the moments when the crisis is gone, rather than the moments throughout the crisis, rather than creatively exploring and engaging with life while quarantined. You may say it’s just an air hockey game. To which I reply, like rebels from time immemorial, “You just don’t get it, man.”

Playing air hockey says that life is worth living now. So does reading good books and lingering over meals, so do the blocks I’ll get out with my girls later today as I challenge them to build bridges with blocks and to puzzle and fiddle their way through the problem. To create.

This morning I read, in the Scriptures of the Bible, the story of Jesus as he pardons a woman caught in adultery — an antiquated and barbaric account to us today: antiquated in the morals of a Jewish society 2,000 years ago, and barbaric in that the author, whoever he or she was since this isn’t in the earliest manuscripts written by John, says the leaders wanted to stone the woman. 

Of course, we don’t stone anyone anymore, but we shame and “cancel.” Some practices change less than we think over time. They may become less physically violent, which is good, but the impulse to exclude those who fall outside our moral orbit remains. 

Today, in this passage I’ve read or heard many times, I was focused on the stones. The scribes and Pharisees picked up stones to destroy this woman. Jesus, however, bends down and writes in the earth, in the dust. One wants to use the earth to destroy, the other to create. We don’t know what he wrote, of course, the author seems to think that’s beside the point. The point is the contradiction: using the earth to destroy or to create. One is an act of seriousness and becomes an act of hopelessness. The second is an act of creativity and, I would argue (and am arguing), a playful act. “While you all are ready to vent your anger and picking up stones, I’m going to write in the dirt.” It arrests and exposes their seriousness and hostility, just like a rebel would. 

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