I’ve found you a thousand times
I guess you’ve done the same
But then we lose each other
It’s just like a children’s game
— Harry Chapin, “Circle”
The warm breeze was heavy with the scent of honeysuckle that evening. There was still enough light to see, and the fading sunset made the sky colorful as the light dimmed and the shadows lengthened. But the honeysuckle scent is what I remember most.
I don’t know why that particular night remains with me. I was about 9 years old and I was one of seven or eight children playing hide-and-seek around the neighborhood. Our house was the center of the play area. There were a couple of houses to the left and one other to the right. There was a meadow behind our house — and an old, unused barn beyond that. It seemed that we played for hours.
Nobody wanted to stop, but it eventually got too dark to see. We split up to go to our own homes — happy with the games and ready to resume our hide-and-seek play on another day.
This memory came to my mind strongly tonight. And it suddenly occurred to me — for the first time in my life — that this sort of game helps prepare children for what’s ahead in their adults lives.
We start out playing a primitive version of hide-and-seek with babies. We hide our faces behind books — or the corner of a wall or table — and then we delight the baby by showing we’re still there to pop out and say, “Peek-a-boo!”
As the baby grows and matures, we start hiding things under objects for the child to find — and we praise the delighted child for finding what’s hidden. With every stage of development, we add a little bit of complexity. The growing child learns to reason and to figure things out — and he learns to seek the hidden things that he wants to find.
By the time we’re adults, we don’t think of ourselves as playing games, but we’re still doing the same things. We hide from others — often people who want to find us — and we desperately seek other people and things who we want to find.
We decide what we want — money, success, love, sex, praise, thrills, glory, comfort — and we relentlessly seek those things, which seem to be hiding from us.
Some people even consciously hide from others who they want to find them. How many time have you seen people “play hard to get” with those who they want? And they justify it by saying this baffling tactic makes them more desirable if others have to work to win them.
We play these games over and over. Sometimes we’re the ones starting out with our eyes closed. Then we start blindly seeking whatever seems to be hidden from us. Other times, we’re the ones hiding — and we often know that we want to be found, but we know the rules of the game require us to hide.
When we were children, the games were ends in themselves. We could enjoy playing one game after another, with no reward other than the joy of winning or at least trying again to win.
But as adults, we find the stakes are higher. It no longer feels like a game. And we’re no longer even conscious of what we’re doing.
So we seek something that seems to be hidden from us and we often find it. At first, we feel joy at finding whatever we went after. But we keep expecting those things we find to make us happy. We’re playing the game. We’re winning — ever so briefly — and then we realize we feel empty.
So we’re on to the next game.
I don’t know why we spend our lives playing these games. I don’t know why we have to chase so many things that have no chance of bringing us long-term joy. And I have no idea why we can’t learn to be wiser about the games we play — and the treasures we seek.
More than any of the other things we blindly pursue as adults, what we really need is real connection with one another. Not just the superficial relationships that so often make up our lives. We need deep and lasting connections — spiritual, emotional, intellectual — with individuals who can choose to be mutually vulnerable with us.
We learned the game, but most of us never learned to be wiser about what we’re looking for — and who we want to find us.
I need to find you and I need you to seek and find me.
I don’t know who you are. I used to think I did. Maybe you don’t know that I even exist. Not yet.
But I need to take the lessons of those warm summer nights and apply them to my adult needs in wiser ways. I don’t need to simply pursue what’s shiny or seems to offer a culturally acceptable prize. We both need to be smarter and wiser and more loving than that.
But we need to find each other. And if we become hidden again — if we lose each other — we need to seek each other again. Even as the light fades and the shadows lengthen, we need to reach out again and again.
When we finally have the wisdom to seek in the right ways — for the right connections and goals — we won’t have to hide anymore. We won’t have to seek anymore. And we can leave the games behind us in childhood, where they belong.