All of nature wants to be whole and bountiful. With Garden of Eden-like insistence, nature’s children yearn for openness over obligation, for existence over expectation, for play over posture. With a devotion to hope, above all things, against all things, even the best of things, hope says let this be. Oh, how blessed are the playful and the hopeful! For they show up for the sake of THEE moment, which is every waking moment. The moments of 2020 had been laden and languid as momentum of the ruminating mind often overpowered that of the bored body: When will the threat of the pandemic pass? Should I take this vaccine? Should I start or subscribe to OnlyFans or nah? And most may have just wanted to go outside and play with friends. To do with friends. To be with friends.
If the COVID era has taught us one thing, it is that relationships are contingent upon doing devotional play and being devotionally hopeful. Connections stay alive by call and response, by reaching and receiving, by the constant conflict between being and doing. Like the thrilling tension of a see-saw, we must go up and we must go down. This is the sensation of play. Abrupt stop and go. The anticipation that one’s playmate will push off when it is time, and we are entrusted to do the same. And then running, running, running to the next adventure. Falling down, getting bruised. Comparing scars and playground wounds. Jumping up, jumping off, jumping into. Play is corporeal passion. This is inner child’s play. It’s all heart and kinesis. All sweat and exertion. Smelling like outside. Feeling like freedom, flow, and fun. Spontaneity. Like the jazz that lives on the two and four, there is wonderment between close players, tandem do-ers. Curiosity of each other and of the outside world is the percussive instinct compelling us to keep on. Digging undeterred into imaginations and into warm earth with bare hands. Climbing into the bush of trees. You push and push and push your limits—not unlike how high you can go on a swing—exploring the nerve of your playmate and the boundaries of yourself. Discovery. You hold hands in rhyme games and let go. You chase and choose and change directions during tag. Laughing nose-to-nose until breathless. Doing play is exhilarating and thoroughly exhausting. A rampage and rush of the divine. We spend time together. Together, we are spent. Always touching.
But play in the world of emerging infectious diseases is wanting of touch and therefore often devoid of do, such that one finds herself having to instead be. The doers are regularly disquieted by the effortlessness and focus and self-confrontation required of being. Our language, our behavior toward one another, our collective identity as be-ers demands changes accordingly, and it is arguably…boring. Yet, when we have to be, we realize that play is vulnerability, the prerequisite for love, for all-human kind connection. And play becomes sensuality’s birthing grounds. It is where intimacy is cultivated and where trust is founded. It is the practice of fidelity and healthy detachment, both required elements for transformational connection and I-see-you-ness. There is almost nothing scarier than what this being sight calls us to see. By occupying our being selves, we see the beauties of Nature. In our being, we see the plagues of Social Nature too and we are accountable, lest one overrides their better judgement and chooses to become the voyeur, overcome with—well, what comes to mind is a book character. Ann Petry’s main scopophilic character in her book The Street, wherein she described, “the loneliness that ate into him day and night…” Yet, this isn’t fiction. We can’t go out like that.
When I be, I notice the leaves on trees shake like a legion of tambourines against the palm of the wind. When I do, they be nothing to me. And likely I do nothing—I am inspired to non-action. When I be, the chronic seasons of violence against jogging Black boys—Black corner boys, same time needing closeness during COVID, yet in violation of social distancing edicts, Black boys who are otherwise doing play—assaults my beingness. Rather than spectate, I have to do something—I am inspired to action.
As do-ers, we have all knocked on a few doors wondering if, and waiting for playmates to play. “Are you home?” “Can you come out?” As be-ers in the time of COVID, it feels perennially like asking, “are you my home?” “Can you out yourself to me?” This is the introspective turn of this plague (especially on Blacks and Browns—Black and Brown Plague?) when hide and seek becomes just seeking. Or we realize that we are hiding from that which we are truly seeking: intimacy, trust, curiosity, the true self.
Play is the she/her/hers of the energetic world. This is the feminine in us. She is the cool moon that meets us when the streetlights come on. She be and she do. And when the streetlights come on signifying the time to part during prolonged periods of pestilence—even the best of playmates must swath themselves in safe solitude at sunset. We hope to come together again tomorrow and the next day for never ending play. We hope, we do. But this is the season to be. This is the time to become. I call my friends to come be with me, yet without me.
Mia Keeys is the first Director of Health Equity Policy and Advocacy of the American Medical Association’s Center for Health Equity. She is the former Policy Director of the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust and Health Policy Advisor to Congresswoman Robin Kelly (D-IL). Previously, Mia has also been a Kaiser Family Foundation Barbara Jordan Health Policy Scholar; a Fellow for the City of Philadelphia in the Deputy Mayor’s Office for Health and Opportunity; an HIV/AIDS researcher in South Africa; and a U.S. Fulbright Fellow to Indonesia, where she worked on education and public health initiatives on behalf of youth and their families for three years. The National Minority Quality Forum recognizes Mia as a 40 Under 40 Leader in Minority Health. The National Academy of Medicine features Mia’s children’s book on health equity—titled Cole Blue, Full of Valor—in their 2017 national exhibit, “Visualizing Health Equity.” Her work on youth and the imagination is featured in a TEDx Talk, titled “A Racial Imagination Quotient”. Mia holds Bachelor of Arts degrees in English and Psychology from Cheyney University, and a Master of Arts degree in Medical Sociology from Vanderbilt University, where she was a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Policy Fellow through Meharry Medical College. She is currently a doctoral student at The Milken Institute School of Public Health at The George Washington University. Mia is also a creative non-fiction writer, with training from the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. She is originally from Philadelphia, PA.
Edited by Panama D. Jackson