I like the word frivolous.
As an adjective, it’s defined as “not having any serious purpose or value,” yet for some reason, things like that have always attracted me. I once wrote a screenplay about a superhero with the powers of a cow. I still make elaborate cardboard cutouts and pose with them at sunset whenever I can.
I’m lucky, I guess.
For many people who struggle in the world…for money, for basic survival…frivolous things are hard to justify. When life is hard, you don’t waste time or money or energy. It’s certainly true in India; frivolous things are rare.
And that’s too bad, because frivolous things are fun. To throw a random pirate-themed dinner for your kids…or to dress up like a drowned Victorian widow as part of your Uncle’s elaborate ghost story. Frivolous things are often the most memorable because they break the dull sameness of everyday life. They are a luxury to be sure—but not because they need to cost money. They are a luxury because they require enough breathing room in life to make play a priority.
As I’ve seen all over the world, breathing room can be hard to find in the pressure-packed lives many people live.
Still, I’m always on the lookout for a good frivolous idea, and during Summer Games here at the Good Shepherd Agricultural Mission, I just may have helped create the most frivolous event India has ever seen. We called it Frozen Night Games and it went like this…
In a mad bit of inspiration, Clifton Shipway and I ordered 150 blocks of ice. They were delivered on the back of a long tractor bed at 9PM in an intense downpour on a sweltering night. One by one, the block were pried apart, sent down a metal ramp and pushed across the cement floor into the church house. Children rode on the blocks as they were maneuvered into place, laughing as all children do when they go sledding for the first time.
Then, in a slow sliding procession, the blocks were assembled like a puzzle. It wasn’t the indoor skating rink we’d envisioned. Many blocks cracked in half as they were delivered. All blocks were different lengths and thicknesses. It ended up being more of a dangerous patchwork of gaps and traps, but the kids loved it all the same.
When the pieces were in place, we watched “Frozen” on the ice, a unique movie-watching experience in India if ever there was one. Then we held ice toboggan races, ice holding and ice carving contests. We even ended the games with the area’s first and last snowball fight.
For this final event, teams had twenty minutes to chip the blocks into usable “snow,” then they turned the dining hall into a barricaded battlefield and launched into a joyful, spirited all-out war.
Having grown up in New England, I know how fun snowball fights can be, but I’ve never experienced such pure snowball glee as the kids displayed. On a hot Indian night with the monsoon dumping sheets of water outside, the chipping and the throwing and the dodging and the laughing raged late into the evening. As childhood memories go, even as it was happening, it felt to me like the kind of moment you grow up and tell your grandchildren about. If that’s true, Frozen Night Games won’t end for many many years to come.
Was it a waste? The blocks cost $1 a piece. In a world of poverty and hunger and need, is there a place for this kind of fun?
I think so.
It’s what makes caring for children—any child—so challenging. Yes they need food and shelter and clothes and school and health care and love and guidance day after day for years and years. But in an ideal world, at least in my ideal world, they also need fun. They need to be inspired. They need to laugh, to be amazed, to be as happy as a child riding an ice block across a slick cement floor late at night.
The next morning, I was standing by the melting ice when I felt a strong hand slip into mine. It was Sareena, one of the small girls, and one of the most enthusiastic snowball fighters from the night before.
“You had fun last night?” I asked her, and Sareena tipped her head.
“It was the best night of my life,” she said, not joking at all.
Which felt to me like the opposite of frivolous as we stood, hand in hand, watching the cold steam disappear into the humid air.