My school sits on top of a hill. Down one side of the hill, some of our city’s poorest reside. Narrow streets and gritty alleys split the eastern patch of the hillside into slices of irregular geometry. Streets cut paths where children can run from bad luck into good fortune in just a few seconds. You can see shipyards that lean along its banks like darkened skeletons. Where the street lights work, the way is plain. Where they do not, a child can get turned around and find himself wandering and lost.
Down the other side of the hill, cultures and beliefs collide. Loud music plays from rumbling cars. People speak in every language. Smells delight and appall. From the hill, you can sees houses and shops that line a stretch of flatland extending to hilltops a few miles away. Westward, toward a skyline of towers, bridges extend to distant cities. From one corner of the roof, you can even see the ocean that reaches out of sight and mind.
And nearby, new homes keep coming. They press like misshapen castles against the school’s fences, bringing shadows upon the playground one glass and steel floor at a time.
For now, fog still drifts across the playground here. Sometimes, we can’t see from one side of the blacktop to the other. Sometimes, the fog gets inside the halls, crawls up the stairs, and even pours in through our ears. Everything slows down. Answers appear and disappear. Just when we wonder whether we, too will disappear, fog lifts. Then we can see as far as forever. Even the future has a shape and a name.
My school exists in the imagination and therefore the essence of it can permeate everything or nothing at all. You will never be able to find this school on a map. And then, you can’t miss it. It exists as a choice that you can permit or reject as you see fit.
You will know all of the children who play on the yard, who fight with each other, get lost in dreams, and deliver miracles by way of course. And, though you know them, these children, like the school, live only in the imagination. They are no child and every child. Most of all, they are the child within you.
Hold the playground the way you hold a dream. Know that this dream tells stories that forecast the future. These children will unfold into adults and the actions of the adults are presaged in the thoughts, words, and deeds that you will witness on this playground.
Notes from the Playground is a guidebook to open up your inward journey. You can, on this blacktop, rewrite yourself. You can look back and remember who you were in kindergarten. You can reckon with how much you’ve changed if you have changed much at all.
Look at pictures from decades ago and hold them side by side with pictures of you now. Could you ever have predicted what you see? Life in all of its big, unpredictable, exciting hugeness! And you, wonderful child-wrapped-in-a-grown-up-body, still just getting started!
What will an awakened life bring? What will you bring to an awakening world? How will you make for yourself a happy life? Your story, no matter what happens, unfolds because of how you write it. Read a few pages. Set the book down. Open it up again when you can. Memories will jump from these pages and these memories will open you up to how big life can be when you play with heart.
Welcome back to your school and your childhood, where you made your first mistakes, learned the lessons that set you on your course, and where you can return when it’s time to undertake your biggest decisions.