Yesterday I had to go out and run some errands. I asked my eldest daughter if she wanted to come along for the ride and join me. She did, and while I got some things ready, she went out to the car ahead of me.
When I got out to the car, I put a box in the front seat. She said to me, "Daddy, can you please put the seat belt around that?" I didn't understand the request. It made no sense. I was so baffled by it that I was forced to pause and turn to look at her. I wanted to ask her what she meant. As I turned I saw that she had buckled her bear and raincoat in the seats beside her, and that she was now busy buckling herself.
It caused me to let go of my incredulity and mild frustration at being taken off guard by a silly request, and to replace these feelings with a sense of joy and playfulness. As we drove off, she singing the whole way, I reflected on this moment of play.
I was first made to think seriously about play, if one can even do this, while reading Gadamer's Truth and Method. In it, Gadamer takes issue with Kantian, subjective conceptions of play, instead putting his focus on the mode of being of play itself. He says,
The player knows very well what play is, and that what he is doing is "only a game"; but he does not know what exactly he "knows" in knowing that.
Like the play of light or the play of the waves, "The movement of playing has no goal that brings it to an end; rather, it renews itself in constant repetition." The movement of play is also "effortless...It happens, as it were, by itself." It is as though we have to work hard not to play. To play is to be absorbed into the structure of play itself, into its movement, and to be set free of the "strain of existence," and therefore, to relax. Play is about presentation, the revealing of what is through the movement of the players. It makes itself available to us through its repetition, the back-and-forth of the play we witness.
Your children put you in touch with things you have forgotten how to do. They present you with a situation in which it is only natural to return to things you have previously put away. I am no longer able to see everything that can be seen, because I've learned to look at things the wrong way. Play enables me to become connected once again to the same rhythm that moves the waves, rustles the leaves, and buckles raincoats into cars.