A recent obituary in the New York Times gave pause for thought.
Brian Sutton-Smith, a developmental psychologist whose work — prolific, scholarly and precedent-setting — was quite literally child’s play, died on March 7, 2015 at 90.
"Despite the academic respectability he had almost single-handedly conferred on play, interviewers persisted in asking Professor Sutton-Smith why he spent his life on the subject.
When challenged: 'Why do you study play?' he replied on one occasion. 'We study play because life is crap. Life is crap, and it’s full of pain and suffering, and the only thing that makes it worth living — the only thing that makes it possible to get up in the morning and go on living — is play.'
Sutton-Smith would have appreciated some lines from Tagore’s Gitanjali:
On the seashore of endless worlds children meet.
The infinite sky is motionless overhead and the restless water is boisterous.
On the seashore of endless worlds the children meet with shouts and dances.
They build their houses with sand, and they play with empty shells. With withered leaves they weave their boats and smilingly float them on the vast deep. Children have their play on the seashore of worlds.
They know not how to swim, they know not how to cast nets. Pearl-fishers dive for pearls, merchants sail in their ships, while children gather pebbles and scatter them again. They seek not for hidden treasures, they know not how to cast nets.
The sea surges up with laughter, and pale gleams the smile of the sea-beach. Death-dealing waves sing meaningless ballads to the children, even like a mother while rocking her baby's cradle. The sea plays with children, and pale gleams the smile of the sea-beach.
On the seashore of endless worlds children meet. Tempest roams in the pathless sky, ships are wrecked in the trackless water, death is abroad and children play. On the seashore of endless worlds is the great meeting of children.
We don't pay enough attention to the therapeutic value of play. Sutton-Smith parsed it. Tagore celebrated it. Caitlin Stiglmeier, working with children in a Indian village, lived it.