Before the Game

Our daughter Meridith, art teacher, and her colleague Ellie, theater teacher, are team-teaching an interim course designed to undermine the damaging distinction between work and play. When we were children there was no difference. We did what we did: work and play fully integrated.

On Monday Meridith and Ellie brought their two classrooms out to our house, one group in the morning, the other in the afternoon, to create a five-course gourmet meal. I watched. I listened. I smiled. Joy filled the house. The class and Ellie and Meridith laughed and talked and yelled and “Oh my gawd-ed” and spilled and stirred and cooked and then gathered together, wide-eyed at their colorful presentation and sat in front of the fire to savor what they had created. And yes they discovered that preparing a meal could be, if they chose it to be, a form of creativity and play.

Remember how Julia Child would make a cake, and it would fall, and she would laugh and say how delightful it all was, and then offer her “Bon appetit”? She always transformed the “work,” the “task,” the “chore” of cooking into play.

I know that Meridith and Ellie are hoping their students realize that value lies in the joy of playful doing, successful outcome or not, and that the things we must do over and over again can be sustained as play, delight-bringing, and as what deeply matters.

Before the Game

“A lot of slush tonight,”
Custodian thinks, looking
over at the row of mops
leaning against the wall
of the boiler room. “I
clean up after everyone.”

The crowd is coming in,
stomping the snow
off their boots, shaking
the flakes from their coats.
He grabs a bucket, takes
a mop, puts them by the door.

He thinks of his son, a teacher
sixty miles away, who’d played
guard, averaged 14 points and
six assists his senior year. He’d
let him in the gym on Sundays.
They’d gone one-on-one.
He’d won a game or two.

He remembers going
out with Cindy Cross.
She married a car dealer.
His hands feel like young birds.

The team comes bursting
through the locker room
door, clapping, yelling past
him. He slaps each player
on the shoulder, says,
“Good luck. Go get ’em.”

–Jack Ridl

From Losing Season (CavanKerry Press)

It’s a new year, and I was hoping these posts would not still be going out there. I was naive, figured six months at the most. So to all of you who have subscribed and to you who have shared and sent a column on to others and to you who have responded, my thanks are innumerable. I have needed to be sustained, and you have done that. As I was writing this post about the wonderful students, I kept thinking about their futures. What will it be? I try not to shudder. All that joy. How I hope they can remain loyal to it.

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Visit Reader’s World or Hope-Geneva Bookstore in Holland, The Bookman in Grand Haven, the Michigan News Agency in Kalamazoo, and The Book Nook & Java Shop in Montague to find Jack’s books in West Michigan.

Jack’s page on Amazon.

Click here to subscribe to receive Jack’s poems and news in your inbox.

Click here for Jack’s entire collection, In Time — poems for the current administration.

Click here to watch Jack’s TedX talk.

Jack at Fetzer Institute on Kindness.

Jack at Fetzer Institute on Everyday Forgiveness.

Jack at Fetzer Institute on Empathy.

Jack Ridl at Fetzer Institute on Suffering and Love.

Beyond Meaning with Jack Ridl, C3: West Michigan’s Spiritual Connection

30 thoughts on “Before the Game

  1. And Jack, isn’t this what we do all the time to our students, our children, our family and friends, to all those we love: “Good luck!. Go get’em.” And by “get’em,” we mean enjoy playing, try your very best, be in the moment, be alive. Thanks for sustaining us with your writing, brother. Miss you.

  2. Yes, indeed, Jack. Please keep on, keeping on! It gives us hope. And the notion of work as fun is so valuable–work is also love, and love is work!

    • Oh Nancy, Please know that what you so eloquently said here is what sustains me
      when I’d give almost anything to no longer be doing these posts.
      Amen to your insight on work.’

    • Debra,
      Your recognizing “all levels” is soooooooo important
      and means everything to me. I try so hard not to overdo
      it and hope that folks pick up implications.
      Thank ye for telling me.

  3. On a personal note, Jack, I am deeply grateful to find your posts in my inbox every Thursday. What an antidote to the poison pushed daily by the liar in chief currently occupying the WH. I just realized “liar” spells “rail” backwards. Your posts do something mystical with the rail from the liar. Bless you and your pen and your brain!!

    • Linda!
      How can you know how much this means to me. There is no way for me to
      know if I am being at all helpful unless told. Your heartfelt telling me
      will lead me back to the keyboard with a smile knowing that on Thursday
      you and I have connected meaningfully and helpfully. My thanks are abundant.

      • That you take time to respond to comments is another reason why I love you and your work. Thanks. Blessings on this cold, wet, icy, and perhaps snowy day/weekend.

  4. Jack my brother, I feel your love all the way over here in Santa Fe…rock steady…stay strong…”you know our love won’t fade away”…peace ta

    • Tony, My Friend!
      You better know that I feel YOUR love all the way up here in
      the ice storm attacked north. I’m doin’ all I can, Man, to
      “stay strong.” You most certainly are a model for that.

  5. Ah Jack…shudder with you. And know we have never needed poetry – and play – more than now…thank you for the story and again – your soul-full and filling poetry.


    • And my command to YOU, dear help everyone soul, is for you also to PLAY!
      Thank you for your abiding way of sustaining what I try to do
      Hugs and siesta!

    • What a tear bringing, joyfully, message, Dean.
      I always say, I’m so lucky to get to be her father.
      Hugs and gratitude for your abiding kindness to Meridith!

  6. You and yours bring joy to me and Michigan News. We have had a fine season beginning with yours and Lisa reading at the News. I have been telling my people as they cruise the News that I am here because you are here. Our next reading is with Arnold Johnston on January 15. He loves my bookstore as much as you do. On to 2020.

    • What a surprise and what a joy to hear from you, dear Marianne! I think the last time
      I saw you was at that Red Dock reading. How I hope that the days have been good to you.
      Thank you for your kind message, so much.

  7. Jack, thank you for sharing these poems week after week– I see it as a way of chipping away at all that makes us shudder. Grateful for your effort, talent, work and play.

    • Maggie, our dear Maggie, thank you for such an eloquent message, your
      particular words are ones I’ll keep close as I sit down today to
      write the next post!

  8. Dear Jack, my English is a bit limited, but I want to tell you how deeply your posts move me. They are so full of peaceful emotions – even in anger – that I appreciate your comments as much as I enjoy your poems. Everything you post is so precious , even for people here in old Germany. Thank you. Bernd

    • Hello Bernd,

      In college, one of my friends was from Germany and named Bernd.
      I am so grateful for the kindness, the thoughtfulness of your response.
      I especially appreciate your discerning that even my anger is meant to
      be peaceful. And to know that what I send out is precious means sooooo
      much to me, is sustaining.
      Deep thanks!

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