Dear Sweatpants & Coffee tribe,
It’s that time of year again, and I’m feeling nostalgic.
When I think of Christmas, I think of Sardines. Not the smelly canned fish – the game. It was something my sister and I played with our friends and cousins every year at our big family party. Sardines is a reverse version of Hide & Seek. Instead of one person counting while all the others hide, one person hides while all the others count. If you find the hider, you cram yourself into his or her hiding place. The next person does the same, and so forth and so on until you are packed together like, well, sardines. The last person to find the hiders becomes the next one to hide.
I loved the coziness of this game. In Hide & Seek, if you are successful, you spend most of the game alone, in secret. In Sardines, the point is to be found.
I have such vivid memories of us kids, pressed together in closets or under beds, struggling to contain our giggles. One time, we hid under the magnificent manger display my father fashioned out of cardboard. He’d spray painted the whole thing to look like the side of a mountain and glued on fake shrubs. It fit like a shell over my mother’s sewing table. I discovered I could crawl beneath the baby Jesus and family, pull the cardboard pieces together, and no one would have any idea. It took the others a long time to find me that year, but by the end, five of us were under there. Then there was the time my sister and I were hiding in the bathtub, flat against the bottom, when we heard the door open and shut, followed by the unmistakable sounds of peeing. We stared at each other wide-eyed, fingers against our lips in the universal sign for SHUSH. That game lasted forever because everyone had seen my uncle go in there and use the bathroom without incident, so clearly that couldn’t have been a hiding place.
Sardines made me brave, because when you know people are coming to find you and join you, you feel invincible. It was the perfect game for my anxious, introverted young self. I find that a lot of my adult life has been about letting people into my hidey-hole, or about me seeking them out and climbing into theirs. Who am I? Who are you? What matters to you most? Here’s what I care about. I will show you my vulnerable places, and you can trust me with yours. We all have hidden parts. We’re all hoping to be found by the right people.
So, here’s the challenge: in a world that feels increasingly unsafe, how do you allow yourself to be seen? All I know is that when we played Sardines, there was always room for more. No matter how narrow or impossible the spot, we managed to find room to fit everyone. So many of us these days are hunkered down in our shelters, but we don’t have to stay there alone. We’re looking for each other! That’s why we’re constantly declaring ourselves to the world. What we ate for lunch, what that quiz result told us our personality type is, what we think of the latest celebrity scandal or world tragedy. We’re sending up our personal bat signals and seeing who comes looking. Maybe we disagree and we end up shouting at each other, but the point is, we’re looking.
And the best I can figure – what’s worked for me – is to let myself inhabit my little space as fully as possible. To be as true and strange and honest as I can be so that when someone gets close enough to peer in, the chance of a connection is strong. Also – and this is the scary part: I’m trying to see into hiding places and understand who and what I find there, and to rest confident in the knowledge that there’s plenty of room for everyone if we’re willing to make it.