Mar 13, 2013

Monkey Bars

If you believe the myth (and I don't, in case you were wondering), Adam and Eve were booted out of the garden for daring to know too much, and ever since that fateful transgression, humankind has been cursed with the knowledge of both good AND evil. Yin and yang. Pleasure and pain. The eternal paradox of being human.

So tonight I was lying in bed, thinking my way to dreaming, and my thoughts wandered to the way I would climb things as a child. Trees, walls, monkey bars. Which got me thinking about the absence of monkey bars on modern playgrounds, which got me thinking about pain. I have not experienced a great deal of physical pain in my life, with the exception of the transient pain I frequently experience as a result of my innate clumsiness (a bonked head, a stubbed toe) and the odd pain associated with getting older (heartburn, a strained muscle). Two of my notable moments of pain, however, occured as a result of monkey bars.

The first incident occured when, from my seated perch atop the monkey bars, I attempted to swing down between two bars, misjudging and smashing my face against the iron. My nose erupted in a spray of blood and such pain as I had theretofore not experienced. My little brother frequently had nose bleeds, so the blood itself was not really a concern; the bloom of pain that faded into a steady throb shocked my young self's sense of indestructibility.

The second incident occured during a game we children would play of standing on the step of one end of the monkey bars and leaping forward to grab the farthest bar we could reach before swinging along, appropriately monkey-like, to the other end. The first bar was easy; the second, hardly a challenge; the third, more difficult, but attainable; the fourth was my goal. I climbed the rungs, stood on the edge with my hands outstretched above me, holding onto the bar above my head. I gathered my courage, bent my legs, sprung forward, and missed, fingertips grazing iron as I fell to the packed dirt below. It could hardly have been graceful; I landed with a horrible thud and the wind was knocked out of my lungs and I remember the panicked feeling of being unable to breathe, gasping, dying. I did not die, of course. Sweet air came rushing back into my lungs in a moment, but the memory of suffocating on the playground remains to this day.

Which brings me to my point: children these days NEED monkey bars. They need danger and risk and excitement. There is a growing desire to protect ourselves, our children, from harm. Cars full of airbags, protective bumpers on sharp corners, bicycle helmets, warnings on television programs, warnings on coffee cups. But if we succeed in eliminating all of the dangers of living, where will we be? Will we be content to be merely content, or does life involve something more? Eve risked a lot, the daring little minx, to give us the freedom to understand pain, and I, for one, am not going to let her (mythical) sacrifice be in vain.

We shouldn't be afraid to read or watch or do something that has the potential to hurt us. We should all make that leap to the next bar, because life is a risk, man (and check out how that story became allegory without my even realizing it). As human beings, we are both fragile and fallible, but we shouldn't let that make us fearful. So bring monkey bars back to playgrounds. Let children get bloody noses and broken arms. As soon as it is warm enough, I'm going to ride my bike, helmetless. I might fall off and crack my skull, but at least I will have felt the wind in my hair.