The Playroom by George Merrill

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My mind is slowing down. It’s retaining data more selectively. The missions I assign to my mind take longer to complete than before. The whereabouts of a misplaced pen, the glasses I just put down, determining why I went from the den to the living room; although irritating, fortunately these quirks are not crippling. Negotiating life’s basic tasks just takes a little longer, that’s all. And then, of course, living life is all about our use of time, anyway.

As my thought processes slow down, I’ve grown more interested in just how my mind performs for me, in the way we pay greater heed to our dwindling resources than we did before when they were plentiful.

As I was searching my mind for ideas the other day, I drew blanks. This happens regularly. The process always leads me to wonder about the creative process itself and how it works. I think people associate creativity with the arts or sciences but I believe the phenomenon is universal – a part of our humanity – and it appears in varying degrees in all of us. The laborer is creative, as is the salesmen, the politician, the artist, the clergyman and of course, writers. Then there’s the stay-at-home mom whose capacity for creativity is tested every minute. With a house full of kids, all of whom require strategic interventions of one kind or another, mom’s creativity is stretched to the max. Children, however, have the greatest capacity for creativity. They are the least likely of any of us to place constraints on their imagination. Kids love to just let it rip.

Of all our spiritual attributes, creativity is the most arbitrary. It doesn’t do well when forced.

My potentially creative imagination invariably bombs if I go at it full bore and try to squeeze it for some immediate project. In my experience creativity is activated the way seeds grow. First you plant them, let them be for a while, until you see something emerge. The fruits of creativity arise from imagination and surface only at their own pace.

Take creativity as it’s demonstrated in the biblical book of Genesis; the creation narrative proceeds ex-nihilo; it comes from out of nowhere, from nothing. God seems matter of fact about his momentous achievements of creating a universe but most of us would greet such special creative moments with ecstatic expressions like, ‘Eureka,’ or ‘Hot damn.’

In 1950, the legendary science-fiction writer and author of Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury, wrote “The Veldt.” In it he describes a playroom “with television monitors lining each wall and the ceiling. Walking into such an environment, a child could shout: River Nile! Sphinx! Pyramids! And they would appear, surrounding him, in full color, full sound and why not? Glorious warm scents and smells and odors . . . All this came to me in a few seconds.”

Whimsical? Kid’s stuff? Absolutely. He’d had that vision in his mind’s eye since he was a small child. As an adult, it all came back to him in a flash, “in a few seconds.”

Augmented reality has long sounded like a wild futuristic concept. I read recently in the New York Times that Augmented Reality is here to stay and The Times is offering it on line. AR is all about superimposing computer-generated images on top of our view of reality, thus creating a composite view that augments the real world. In effect, excepting for smells, this describes Bradbury’s playroom to a T. And I bet smells will soon be on the way.

This is one among many instances of our mind’s capacity for the kind of imagining that reaches well beyond exigencies of time and place to see into a reality that has not reached its moment in history. In Bradbury’s case I would say his Playroom vision was a byproduct of wonder. Our minds have an insatiable appetite for awe and wonder. They feed on it.

There are people whose imaginations have the capacity for a special kind of creativity. They are able cut through the illusions which imprison us and see clearly into the future. They, too have visions of wonder, but their kind is more about hope. There are three biblical prophets I immediately think of who shared a similar vision pertaining to the future of the Jewish people. I read it also as a vision of our destiny as a human family. The prophetic proclamations are introduced with the phrase: “In the last days” meaning these proclamations are to come about at a future time. It is a vision of the way the human family will ultimately live together, but only after time.

Especially today, in the climate of war mongering and national arrogance, this prophetic chapter from Isaiah I find simply stunning.

“And many people shall go and say, come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”

Similar visions appear written in the prophetic books of Joel and Micah, as if the idea captured the minds of the ancient world which was as contentious and war-torn as ours is today.

The bronze sculpture “Let Us Beat Our Swords into Ploughshares,” created by Soviet artist Evgeny Vuchetich, was presented to the United Nations on December 4th 1959 by the Government of the USSR. The sculpture, depicting the figure of a man holding a hammer aloft in one hand and a sword in the other. It’s an inspiring work of art.

This remarkable vision of hope still lives in our human consciousness after first appearing around 800BC. That’s a long time ago.

Do you suppose as Bradbury once imagined his ‘Playroom’ as a young boy, and saw it realized as an adult, and that Isiah’s vision, conceived early in the life of the human family will be realized “in the last days? “The vision is now indelibly planted in human consciousness. Generation after generation the vision keeps reappearing. It may not be realized yet, but neither after all this time has it gone away.

I believe it will have its day when the right time is here.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist. A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

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