No matter where I searched, the origin of "Some days you eat the bear, and some days the bear eats you" could not be authenticated.
It has been uttered in popular movies ("The Big Lebowski") and songs (Jim Croce) and even by famous politicians (Ed Koch). But the first person to speak these "immortal" words is still unknown.
It doesn't matter if you're a child or a child-like adult, though, because you can play the bear or the hunter with abandon. A few nights ago, we invited our longtime friends and their grandsons (and parents) to come for hot dogs and corn on the cob. We sat and ate and thoroughly enjoyed the boys (3 and 5) as they recaptured the events of their day at the beach.
Soon it was time for them to run around the condo, so I joined them! This evolved into "Where's Albert?" and then, "Where's Albert, the Bear?" Without thought, I hid behind a large chair while the giggling hunters ran to find me. They ran right past me, so I jumped out and growled. They jumped. All of the adults laughed, and I scampered to my next hiding place, on the opposite side of our bed.
This time the earnest hunters came into a darkened room, and the older brother whispered to the younger: "You go first!" And the younger one said, "No, you go first!" With great stealth, they approached the bed — and the bear jumped out. They ran like sprinters hoping to qualify for the Olympics.
Now we had a pattern and a rhythm, and I was off to the broom closet. The hunt intensified with adults holding their breath just like the little hunters. I was discovered. They were tiring, and so was the bear! It was time for them to go back to Grammy and Grandpy's condo for a well-earned night of sleep. I told the boys it was also time for the bear to hibernate.
Winnie the Pooh remarked, "Wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way "¦ a little boy and his bear will always be playing."
My inner child would add, "And if the little boy is very fortunate, he will grow up to be the boy, the bear and the man."
Every boy at every age needs uncensored, spontaneous play. George Bernard Shaw said, "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing."
In a brief survey of older friends, I found some learning how to play instruments they had never played, engaging in building projects and sophisticated, mind-challenging card and board games.
"I have time to play, now," said one friend. His wife added, "You always had the time; you just didn't allow yourself the opportunity." He nodded in agreement.
Among my blessings I count my ability to be at ease with children — to play, talk and interact with naturalness. My father had the gift, too.
I have played the roles of a bear, horse, hair salon patron, puppy and guest invited to mid-afternoon tea. My granddaughter has painted my fingernails while her cousin painted my toes. When people in the older adult water aerobics class would comment on my multi-colored nails, I easily told them my grandchildren painted them: "Aren't they attractive?" More laughter.
Lori Deschene, creator of the Tiny Buddha blog, suggests seven steps to help us become more playful adults: learn, play, share, connect, create, be and imagine. I might write her a note and suggest: Spend unstructured time with imaginative little boys or girls. You will be invited into the wonderful and magical world of your own extended childhood.
Then take a good nap!
Dr. Albert M. Lewis is rabbi emeritus of Congregation Beth El in Traverse City. He is a public speaker and author of "Soul Sounds: Reflections on Life," available at www.soulsoundsbook.com. Contact him through the Record-Eagle, 120 W. Front, Traverse City, MI 49684.