A Small Change
My adorable nearly seven-year-old grandson Lucien has lately become obsessed with vaporizing and spawning me, shooting me with invisibility and forgetting bullets, zapping me then respawning me back to life—not to mention all the kung fu kicks and punches that land within inches of my body.
At first I tried to play along, eventually even inventing an indestructible second skin and personal wizard to consult with at the most challenging moments. But I never enjoyed the interactions, and after several weeks they started to feel wrong. And when most of our Tuesday afternoons together were consumed by my being decimated again and again, I began to yearn for an escape. I understood that the play was age appropriate for Lucien, but it certainly wasn’t for me. I can’t even read books that are too dark, or watch shows with too much tension. But I couldn’t figure out how to put a stop to this play that Lucien seemed to crave.
Then this morning, as Frank and I were taking our walk around the block, an idea floated into my head, and it seemed to be the perfect solution to my dilemma. First of all, I realized I was thinking much too big. I didn’t need to cancel out Lucien’s imaginary universe by telling him that I absolutely didn’t want to play his game anymore. I could accept the game but change the terms. No need to trash the spaceship that flies at ultimate speeds, or the character who kills then spawns a new creature from the deceased. What I need to do is transform the outcomes.
As I walked, I found myself inventing a whole new game, with a much more positive outcome. We would keep the same characters—and same accouterments–but in this new game they would be involved with doing good: feeding the homeless, saving a sick person, showing compassion to someone who was feeling sad, or helping somebody complete a difficult task.
As I thought this new game through, the Bay Area morning fog dispersed and the sun began to shine in my neighborhood. Suddenly I felt like skipping. When a dog passed us, going in the opposite direction across the street, Frank didn’t go ballisti cas usual! The whole world seemed better and brighter.
Reflecting on what had just happened, I realized that something small had set this radical change in motion. That not only had I invented a solution to a dilemma that had been irritating me, but I had infused my day with joy. Another victory for small!