“Kick the Can” was a Twilight Zone episode from its third season. The episode was first broadcast in 1962.
The residents of Sunnyvale Rest Home are waiting to die, sitting about in creaking rocking chairs, staring at the walls, going through the motions of their fading days. One resident, Charles Whitley notices some children playing kick the can and wonders, “how did we get old?” He concludes that it was because they stopped playing those games like kick the can. They stopped doing the things that they enjoyed.
Given that the Sunnyvale Rest Home is in the Twilight Zone, both he and most of the other residents become children again by leaving their rockers and returning to the games they had played as children.
Of course, aging is not actually a consequence of turning away from childish games. But in growing up, we do sometimes inadvertently lose some of the pleasures of life—if we’re not careful—by becoming too busy to do the things that we enjoy.
Awhile back I was reminded of two things I had forgotten. First, one Sunday morning as I was teaching an adult Sunday school class, we got off on a bunny trail—not a rare occurrence by any means—and I happened to mention certain stamps I had in my stamp collection that illustrated just how bad inflation in pre-World War Germany had been. One of my students happens to be from Germany and suddenly commented, “I have a whole bunch of stamps that my grandparents gave me just sitting in a box—I didn’t know you collected stamps. I should bring them to you.”
Although the prospect of new stamps for my stamp collection was a happy occurrence, I was startled to realize just how many years had passed since I’d actually looked at any of my stamps or done any active collecting. When I was in high school I used to enjoy getting big bags of mixed stamps, soaking them off the pieces of envelopes they were still attached to, and scanning Scott’s Stamp Catalogue to figure out where they had come from and when they had been printed. Somehow, despite writing novels even then, going to class, doing homework, doing chores around the house (like mowing the grass) I still found time for my hobby—and to read one or two science fiction novels a week.
Now, I’m lucky if I read even one book a month. I haven’t even looked at my stamp collection in years, let alone added any new stamps to it. I wonder: am I so much busier now as an adult that I can’t find time to read as much as I used to, or to pursue my hobbies? Are there less hours in a day? What happened?
A second thing that happened not long after the stamp incident came when my wife sent me to the store to pick up some chocolate bars for making s’mores: something for her Girl Scout troop. I wound up buying more packages than were required for the dozen or so girls in her troop and realized that I could actually eat one of them. It was about that time that it dawned on me: it had been at least ten years since the last time I had eaten a chocolate bar.
Doubtless my dentist would be thrilled to know that, but as I consumed the chocolate I wondered that I had forgotten to make time for them for so long. I can recall as a child being overjoyed by candy, and even making an effort to buy some with the small amounts of money that occasionally came my way. For some reason now, as an adult, I had forgotten to give myself that rather inexpensive pleasure.
I am not sure why I’ve forgotten things that as a child I enjoyed. It isn’t that I stopped liking chocolate or counting the perforations on an unusual stamp to figure out if it was an example of Type I or Type II. Perhaps it was graduate school that did it to me. I had to work forty hours a week, take sixteen hours of classes and commute two or three hours a day. The little bit of time beyond those hours were then taken up with sleeping and studying and so everything else kind of fell away. Perhaps in the nearly four years I spent doing that, that approach to life became so ingrained that I lost track of what had once brought me happiness. And then I got married, had children, worked.
But then, I’ve seen similar behavior to mine in many other adults—and the Twilight Zone episode seems to resonate with most of them. Maybe we really do simply need to make an effort now and again to remember to do what we once did as children and to do them.
Excuse me now while I go try to climb a tree.