Beyond Room 119

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When I got home from work yesterday evening, I took a walk around the neighborhood and wound up at the park across the street. This is one of the best parks I’ve ever seen, with multiple slides, a giant moving boat, areas to climb, crane-like things that move sand around, and more. Because it’s so legit, it’s always crowded, with joyfully screaming children running around with their parents watching from the sidelines.

Yesterday, though, I found a family where the adults were having just as much, if not more, fun than the kids on the playground. It started with three adults, a swing set, and a volleyball. They were using the posts of the swing set as the “net” for a volleyball court and were just playing around. There was no technique, no plays being run, no sets or spikes – this was just hitting the ball back and forth for no other reason except that it was fun. They were laughing back and forth after almost every hit and shouting at each other in Spanish. As I walked by, they smiled at me. I smiled right back, gave them a thumbs up, and said, “Looks like fun!” One of them motioned for me to join them. I thought, “Why not?” and we started playing the most casual game of pick-up volleyball that I’ve ever seen. Shoes were tossed off to the side, the ball was ricocheting off the swing set, and most rallies were followed by unabashed laughter from all of us.

After a while, their kids saw how much fun we were having and decided to join. In all, there were two young teenagers (a boy and girl), two girls that couldn’t have been more than 8, the three original players, and me. From a technical perspective, it was probably the worst game of volleyball in the history of the sport. The little girls liked to watch the ball drop in front of them, one of the adults had a habit of hitting the ball twice in a row (which isn’t allowed in volleyball), and oh man, don’t even ask me about the serves. Because, well, they didn’t really exist. The ball was sort of thrown into the air and then bumped to the other side.

As we kept playing, I was continually struck by how much joy was present. The teenage boy had decided to keep score (though I’m not really sure what his criteria for a point was – his scoring method was a little suspect), but no one cared about that. We just kept hitting the ball around, missing the net, watching it hit the pole and bounce back at us, serving too far and making the other team gingerly tread the wet grass to get the ball, and throughout it all, laughter was our constant companion. The little girls were self-conscious about trying to serve at first, so I kept tossing the ball over to them and we all encouraged them as they tried, failed, tried, and eventually succeeded (sometimes). By the middle of the game, they were clamoring for the ball and wanted to keep trying. Everyone was fully engaged and present in the moment.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen that much laughter and that many smiles in such a short period of time. I was so struck that all it took for the eight of us to have a good time was a fifteen dollar volleyball and a swing set at the local park. In a world where we tend to want the latest tech gadget or the newest toys, it was a refreshing reminder that joy can be found in the simplest and most unassuming of places. After I said, “¡Adios!” and headed home, I couldn’t help but keep smiling. Beware: It turns out that joy is contagious and can have long-lasting effects!