Every week I ride the Amtrak train between Milwaukee and Chicago, as I live in Milwaukee but work much of the time in downtown Chicago. The train ride, only 90 minutes in duration, is a great part of my week. I look forward to my train time because it allows me 90 minutes of uninterrupted time to focus on work I need to get done. There is even a “quiet car” on the train where no cell phone use and no loud conversations are allowed, providing working folks like myself a quiet environment. Within a few minutes of sitting down, my laptop is out and I get in such a work flow that I hardly notice that ninety minutes has passed and we are pulling into Union Station in Chicago.
My ride this week was a completely different kind of experience. I boarded the train early and decided not to sit in the quiet car, as the train wasn’t crowded and seemed pretty quiet. I was so engrossed in my work that when the train pulled out of the station I became aware that there was something very different going on around me. I looked up from my laptop and there to my great surprise was a group of people I rarely see on the train, a group of young children and their parents!
School is out and nothing beats a day trip with children to Chicago to visit the museums, Millennium Park, the zoo, and the tall buildings. Now I love children, but I must confess that my first reaction on the train that morning was to get up and move to the quiet car, where surely there would be no children and I could get back in my work flow. Something in me told me not to move, though, and so I stayed put and ended up having a delightfully different kind of train ride to Chicago.
I kept my laptop out, but didn’t work more than ten minutes throughout the entire ride. Instead, I sat back and just watched and listened to all the children that were all around me. I never did learn whether they were all riding the train for the first time or not, but I’m guessing they were, as they shrieked with delight almost the entire way. “Look, look we are crossing a river right now!” “Hey everybody, I see horses out the window over here!” “Whoa, look how tall those buildings are!” “I wonder how strong the engine must be to pull all of us.”
I loved watching the kids and soaking in their unbridled enthusiasm for all that they were taking in. Without realizing it I had soon entered a different state of flow, a play flow as opposed to a work flow. Here I was riding the same train I always ride, but I was now experiencing it through the eyes of children and it was therefore a completely different experience for me. I didn’t plan this experience, it simply arrived as a gift. It was a gift I almost missed by moving to the quiet car, but thankfully I listened to that voice that told me to stay put.
I share this experience with you because the reason these children were on the train is that school is out and summer has started. As we all travel into this season of summer, perhaps my experience can be a reminder of the many opportunities that summer uniquely provides for all of us to play. If there are children in your life, or just children whose presence you get to enjoy the way I did on the train, perhaps they can help you, as they helped me, access the spirit of wonder and play that is within us all and is so important to our well-being. Or perhaps it is just as simple as taking time to connect with the inner child within each of us that in years gone by filled our summer days with seemingly endless spontaneous play.
Of course for the rest of the summer now, I will have to make a choice when I board the train. Do I head for quiet car so I can maximize my work flow, or do I choose to sit where the children are and maximize my play flow? I imagine I will sometimes choose one and sometimes the other, because we know, “to everything there is a season….” Yet summer seems like the perfect season to remember the importance of spontaneous play and to choose it more often than not.