Recess

Posted by Ken Campbell March 4, 2009 0 Comment 608 views

I was listening to the radio last week and I heard an interview with Philippe Petit, the Frenchman who first hit the public consciousness with his 1974 high-wire traverse from one of the World Trade Center towers to the other. The interview was wide-ranging, with comments on Petit’s other exploits as well as his assertion that he is not from this planet – he was born in another galaxy and immigrated, which actually may explain quite a bit about the French as a whole – but one of his comments stuck with me.

The interviewer had referred to Petit as an “athelete,” and he corrected him, saying, “What I do is not a sport. It is art and I am a poet, making my art with my body. It is not athletics. What I do is make beauty.”

I was surprised the other day to realize that I can still remember the times for recess when I was in grade school. At La Patera Elementary, morning recess went from 10:20 to 10:40 and the afternoon break started at 2:00 and ended at 2:15. I remember how much fun recess was and how all of us kids looked forward to it, watching the hands slowly make their way across the face of the big wall clock until the blessed time arrived.

Recess was a time when I hit the swings, hung out at the monkey bars and tried to make small talk with the pretty girls – who seemed even more alien to me at the time than a Frenchman – and played tag and ran races. I pushed and sweated in pickup basketball and football games, and I am amazed now to think of the herculean contests we waged in such short chunks of time.

But it wasn’t about athletics back then. As kids, we were a lot closer to what Philippe Petit had in mind than anything else. We were little poets, in a way, and learning our physical art in small increments of time spent outside and active.

Where did that go, that brilliant idea of recess? The notion that a few minutes taken out of the day to play, just play, is an important element of a healthy human life. We are a workout culture now, if we are active at all, but there is no art in a treadmill or an elliptical trainer. We hold on to our competitive natures as long as we can, most of us, getting in shape for the over-40 league and tracking our training regimens. Real inspiring.

How might sea kayaking seem different, or climbing, or trail running, if it were viewed as art rather than athletics?

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