When I consider how a friend's light is spent

Bernie I’ve known Bernie DeKoven for around twenty years.  If you don’t know him, Bernie is a guru of fun, a paladin of play.  He has devoted his life to playfulness, from developing games and practices on his own and also helping many other people have more fun.  He’s published plenty of books and articles and more games and funny games.

Over time Bernie and I have worked on various projects together.  We’ve sought each other’s opinions on our work, supported the other during hard times, and entertained ourselves massively.  Recently I visited Bernie and his awesome wife Rocky in Indiana.  When not in person we ping each other daily through social media.  I can’t think of a more inspiring or generous person.

I’ve been trying to write this post for two days.  I can’t think of a good way, so I’ll just come out and say it.

Last week Bernie learned that he was going to die.  No kidding, a straight up, inevitable sentence of death.

How did he respond?

With a giant smile.  And an invitation to play.

Think about what that gesture takes.  What kind of mind, what kind of soul responds to a foul and impending death by transmuting it into a gift for other people?  Who among us can reply to the grim reaper with a kind and loving grin?

Bernie grinning

Listen to his words.  He starts this post about his demise with jokes (!), then grants himself a few words of grief… and then invites us, no, commands us to have fun:

If you want to do something for me or because of me, grieving is not what I need. What I need is for you to continue your play/work however you can. Play games. Play the kind of games I like to teach – you know, those “funny games” – harmlessly intimate, vaguely physical games of the semi-planned, spontaneous, just-for-fun ilk, basically without equipment, or goal, or score or reason, even.

Teach those games to everyone. Play them outside, these games. In public. With friends. And strangers. As many as want to play with you.

Consider those words, and what it must have taken to write them.

And he’s still working, continuing on another book.  I think it’s about imaginary games, and might be titled The Imaginary Playground.  Think about the commitment that entails, to hurl himself into the work as the sands on his hourglass run out.

Check out the photo he used on that heartbreaking post.  There’s Bernie, arms flung wide.  It’s as if he’s saying “Eh, nu?  What can you do?”  And also: “Here I am!”  And see how the rest of the photo is a mix of people and fellow players, many smiling or making faces.  Bernie’s always about connecting and collaborating.  Even in this image he’s trying to teach and inspire us.  With a smile.

I am in awe of my friend.  I am instructed by his example, and will play when I’m not weeping.  I’ll make more games and have more fun, against the dark.  You should too.

Here’s his conclusion:

[M]y work here is just about done. It’s been fun. Amazingly, profoundly, deeply, loving fun. Honestly, what more could a man ask?

*This post’s title is supposed to echo this post from February, itself a call out to Milton.

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4 Responses to When I consider how a friend's light is spent

  1. OK. So you made me cry. Three times, before I could finish reading this. Bryan, my gifted friend, you are a gift to so many people. I accept your grace with love.

  2. Joe Murphy says:

    Bryan, I am deeply grateful that you introduced me to Bernie’s work some years ago. Bernie, your periodic reminders that connecting is supposed to be fun, that playing is supposed to be playful, have mattered. Thank you both.

  3. Beautifully and sensitively written, Bryan.
    Thank you for the reality check as I go out to greet this “one wild and perfect” day.

  4. Thank you for introducing me to Bernie. You are both wonderful people.

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