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Watching the sunset, thinking about my friend Chaya, and doing nothing


As I took a walk to see the sunset over the Mediterranean Sea in Yaffo tonight, I was thinking about my friend Chaya who died last week. I was remembering the time that she called me up and said, "Oh my G-d, Elana! You have to play more! Just play! It's so important!" I'm not sure if she was trying to tell me to play more with my kids or with myself. But she had recently read an article about this and needed to share it with me. We did that a lot.

Whenever we saw, read, or experienced something that connected to one of our many conversations, we often quickly called or wrote to the other person to share it. It was like we were always in the middle of a few conversations at once. And it didn't matter if a year or two had passed since we last spoke about it. We would just know. Our conversations were like threads in a challah, weaving back and forth within and around each other, eventually coming back in a different way, always connected. We understood these connections, even if sometimes it felt like the world around us didn't. We just knew. We understood each other.


My heart still aches thinking about this.


I was thinking about Chaya earlier in the day when I was reading the book Overwhelmed: How to work, love, and play when nobody has the time, by Brigid Schulte. I picked up this book reluctantly, even though it was on a recommendation, because I thought I wouldn't relate to it. I assumed that the book was about mothers of young children managing work and kids. I thought, stupidly, that it was describing processes that I am over. But actually the book is about so much more than that. It's about the way women -- and men -- are socialized into thinking about what makes a good life, who we are responsible for, and whose aspirations have value. The processes that hold women back from thriving in this world are multifaceted and complex, and have tentacles reaching into every aspect of our beings, way beyond caring for little kids.


In the section I happened to read while eating lunch, Brigid Schulte discusses the issue of play. She writes about how crucial is for human existence, how girls are discouraged from play from an early age because it is always our job to look after others and be "good", and how even when women have some much coveted leisure time, the guilt of not being "productive" enough or worrying about other people often keeps women from doing things that might be characterized as "play". For instance, going to the beach as a kid was definitely play. But going as a mother, which may include keeping an eye on kids near the water, making sure everyone drinks and that the watermelon is in the shade and doesn't get sand in it, and letting kids get sand all over you while you're helping them pack up -- these things don't necessarily feel like play quite the same way. Even family vacations are often more like work for the same reason. Women are often tasked with organizing logistics, planning or packing the food, and managing everyone's needs and expectations, but not necessarily our own.


Chaya loved play. She played with kids, she chatted with preschoolers, and she was totally at home with a set of blocks and a little person to chat with. I have a vivid recollection of a video she once showed me in which she was dancing with her granddaughter in the living room. Just like that. Completely free and uninhibited.


I was thinking about all this when I stepped out to go watch the sunset. How much my whole being craves that kind of freedom. The freedom to just be, within myself, as I am.

Brigid Schulte met with a group of women who started a women's play group called Mice at Play. Once a month, they go somewhere just to play -- rock climbing, dancing, and on the day that Schulte was with them, trapeze falling. The organizers told her how hard it was to get women to do something that didn't have a purpose -- making something for the kitchen or a weight-loss activity. They asked her when the last time she did something just to be in the moment without having to achieve something from it. She said, "I was probably 12 or 13." Like that.


I have been watching the sunset for the past few months whenever I can. It was particularly challenging when I was helping to look after my daughter's newborn babies. But it also became increasingly necessary. It is so easy to fall into the trap of taking care of everyone and never just allowing ourselves to be. Tonight, I thought to myself, I would love to find a group of women who also want to spend more time playing. Yaffo is a particularly diverse neighborhood, and wouldn't it be nice if women from different backgrounds came together to play. What a radical idea.


I'm thinking about starting a play group for women, in Chaya's memory. We can dance, sing, go rock climbing, or do nothing but gaze at the sky.


What do you think?


Who's in?


Contact me at elana@lionessbooks.com if this speaks to you.


Take a look at my video about the sunset below.

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