playgrounds and pain


    When Ginger and I moved to Boston in August of 1990, we had been married four months. Now, five months shy of our eighteenth anniversary, we are (we verbalized as we drove into the city today) leaving home. We wondered aloud how we will learn to “let go” of this wonderful city and then began to talk in terms of “changing our grip”: we are headed south to find home in a new city and Boston will remain our hometown.

    We are also leaving those who have become family to us. The main point of our trip today was to say goodbye to Cherry, whom we have known since she was in high school and we met her doing a youth camp in Louisiana. She moved to Boston and lived with us for four years and has remained to make a life of her own, part of which includes being a yoga instructor. We met for lunch at Fajitas & ‘Ritas, the site of my fortieth birthday party, and then spent a couple of hours sipping coffee and talking as we sat together on Boston Common across from a playground packed with little kids. I was taken with one little girl in a pink dress who, rather than coming down the slide, slung herself over the side of it at the top, dangled, and then dropped to the ground below. She jumped up, climbed back up the ladder, and did it over and over without hesitancy or harm.

    Cherry talked about some of the bodywork she has done in her yoga training. “The reason she doesn’t hurt herself,” Cherry said, “is because she doesn’t resist.” The little girl fell without fear; she didn’t brace herself as though the ground would hurt, she just let go and landed. “We get injured when we brace ourselves in fear,” Cherry continued. “We have to learn to trust the joy.”

    John Updike wrote a story called “Trust Me” (in a collection by the same name) many years ago that begins with Harold, as a child, jumping off the edge of the swimming pool to his father’s arms, only to be dropped into the water and moves through various events in his life in which his trust is betrayed or he breaks the trust of one of his loved ones. Then the story ends:

    The palms of his hands, less mottled, looked pale and wrinkled, like uncomfortable pillows. In his shirt pocket Harold found tucked the dollar bill rejected at the subway turnstile, extremely long ago. While waiting for Priscilla to relent and call back, he turned to its back side, examined the mystical eye above the truncated pyramid, and read, over and over, the slogan printed above the ONE.

    As we sat in the park, I couldn’t help but watch the children moving up and down the chutes and ladders. Their play was not without pain — I saw them slip on steps and slam into the slides – but joy was the prevailing wind that filled their sails. They dove and jumped and climbed and slid head first without resistance, without fear, without thought that our afternoon was made for anything other than unadulterated joy. And we were three who have trusted each other for a long time struggling not to brace ourselves for the pain that comes with separation. While they played, we were saying goodbye. We were living a pain those children don’t know. They were living a joyous abandon we are hard pressed to find in our own lives. Who then, has the lesson to learn?

    I couldn’t help but think of Randy Newman’s old song:

    If I had one wish
    One dream I knew would come true
    I’d want to speak to all the people of the world
    I’d get up there, I’d get up there on that platform
    First I’d sing a song or two you know I would
    Then I’ll tell you what I’d do
    I’d talk to the people and I’d say
    “It’s a rough rough world, it’s a tough tough world
    Well, you know
    And things don’t always, things don’t always go the way we plan
    But there’s one thing, one thing we all have in common
    And it’s something everyone can understand
    All over the world sing along

    I just want you to hurt like I do
    I just want you to hurt like I do
    I just want you to hurt like I do
    Honest I do, honest I do, honest I do”

    Buddha taught that life was suffering. I, who at this point in my life am shaped a bit like Buddha, understand how much pain is a part of the fabric of our being and I wonder, after watching the children play today, why I allow myself to see pain as the fundamental connector of humanity so easily. We were created for more than enduring life. Hell, yes life hurts. It hurts a lot. It’s not safe or secure or without danger. And we were created for more than hiding in the corner or bracing ourselves for the next blow. As the goodbyes stack up as high as the boxes in our house, as we prepare to leave home, as our hearts hurt, I want to know how to swing out over the side of the slide and let go and continue to trust that love will catch me.

    When I was in tenth grade, we came back from Africa to live in Fort Worth, Texas for a year while my parents were on leave from the mission field. I was carrying fresh wounds of farewells and had no idea how to be an American teenager. One afternoon, I was invited to a church youth event at a local park. Two of the seniors, Cathy Shelton and David Piland, who both seemed so beautiful and cool to me, sang Elton John’s “Love Song.” It was the first time I had heard of Elton or the song (actually written by Lesley Duncan). As they sang, the sounds of the children on the playground behind them bled through the microphone underneath their voices just like it does on the record (as I discovered when I bought it). The children giggled and shouted and played as Cathy and David sang:

    Love is the opening door
    Love is what we came here for
    No one could offer you more
    Do you know what I mean
    Have your eyes really seen

    Thirty-seven years later, the juxtaposition of playgrounds and pain still speaks to me, calling me beyond the hurt to informed hope. Whatever we know of sorrow and skinned knees, however marked we are by wounds and worries, they are not what makes us human. We were born by Love, we are bound by Love, and Love will carry us home.

    Trust me.



    1. Wow, has it been that long? How well I remember you guys talking about Boston and feeling called to go there. Some kind of romantic event watching street musicians and something like that? Funny how a whole life can be changed by someone sitting with an open guitar case. That person has no idea he or she was a part of bringing a city to your attention.

      A whole new chapter for you two. A whole new life for the Brasher-Cunninghams. I’ll enjoy watching this one unfold too.

    2. Hi! I never realized that your marriage is only one month younger than Steven (how is that for scary – we sent off his first college application last night)!

      In case you don’t get the news from FCC Winchester any more, there is a dance party Saturday night (11/3) featuring a band made up of local guys (Bruce is among them):

      If I thought you were unbusy (or even if I was sure you were still here) I would urge you to come, but I bet you wound up with leaving.

      Wish we had a chance to cross paths – who knows, maybe we will show up in Durham one day!

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