It is late Tuesday morning at the Parmer household. The older kids are off at school, while the younger ones are working on their lessons at home. Part of many daily and weekly tasks, the socks have just come out of the dryer. As a mother of 8 kids, Amy Parmer rarely knows a day when managing a mass of clothes at home isn’t part of the equation. Yet when it comes to matching socks, there is a particular layer of intrigue that belies this seemingly mundane task.
Once the socks come out of the dryer and are thrown onto the bed, they become part of an intricate game. The goal of the game is this: find a pair or “you will die.” Unlike any online games, there are no virtual or gory deaths here, but just the genius of a mother who has found a way to make a mundane task into something quite interesting. The rules are seemingly simple, and yet not without their nuances. First, if you pick up a sock, and you can’t find its match, the first death occurs. But wait — there is a backdoor trick to staying alive if, and only if, in the process of picking up one sock, a different pair emerges on the bed while looking for the other sock. However, at no time can you uncover socks in looking for a pair, unless it has occurred naturally during the matching process. With ten people in the house, the matching combinations are endless, but so are all the ways that a “saving” pair may lie buried deep beneath layers of cotton and wool.
Recently, the Parmer’s were over for a visit, and the topic of the “sock game” came up once again. Various questions arose. Just where did this game originate? Have you ever fully beaten the game and not died at least once (answer: it appears not, though official results records are not available). How do you account for socks that have no match? And so on. As we were talking about it between our families, one of Amy’s daughters suddenly piped in and indicated that she, too, had been playing a version of the sock game, and yet didn’t attribute it to her mother. Despite challenges by some of us that it must have been passed down, we found ourselves wondering (well, not really) if there could be a genetic component to this game.
Every day, all of us in our own lives are looking for adventure and intrigue, whether we realize it or not. While few will climb Mount Everest or sail the open seas, the reality is that human beings are wired to seek out what is interesting, intriguing, and even challenging. While this tendency is often attributed to a certain demographic (i.e., younger males), the reality is that if we are honest with ourselves, we all desire a certain degree of novelty and freshness, even if the expression and ideas of each person may differ dramatically.
The challenge with this is that we often struggle to find good, healthy, and accessible avenues for this intrinsic drive. While a vacation to a faraway place might provide a glimpse of something different, it rarely satisfies this constant gnawing that exists (not to mention it is not accessible for many). What happens then, when this desire goes unfulfilled in positive ways, it sets the stage for temptations and pursuits that can lead us far away from the person we desire to be, and significantly compromise our health and that of our families and communities.
In the fall of 2004, the show Desperate Housewives was launched, eventually running for 180 episodes and 8 seasons; it quickly became a huge hit. Set on Wisteria Lane, the show was full of illicit affairs, dark secrets, domestic struggles, and all sorts of mysteries that made for an entertaining, albeit not exactly formative, series. Yet beyond capturing the insatiable draw that exists for sex, violence, drama,and humor on TV, it also tapped into a clear artery of consideration. Simply put, even when we have all the money and resources we desire, people often desire novelty and intrigue beyond their mundane lives. When they struggle to find this, one of two things happens. One, as noted prior, they often end up seeking out unhealthy sources to satisfy this desire. Two, they often feel “in a rut”, which can lead to depression and despair on many fronts.
Months back, I was giving a talk to a group of local professionals. At the end of the presentation, a woman came up to me in tears. As I later learned, she was finding herself unhappy and confined in her current life, struggling to get beyond the daily responsibilities and stress in order to find greater peace and joy. As we talked more about it, what was apparent is that her life no longer felt that interesting or adventurous, but rather just an exercise of the same old routines. It was a sense I recognized in myself at times, in that for all the positive aspects of life which exist, it is easy to feel exhausted and jaded by the tremendous responsibilities that many of us have. Which brings me back to the brilliance of the “sock game.” In what many would regard as one of the tedious, mundane jobs that have ever existed, Amy Parmer and others like her remind me that our daily lives can be full of adventure and intrigue, if we are open to all sorts of creative possibilities and deeper inquiries. In my newest book, Confessions of a Carless Commuter, I discuss the various ways in which I, too, have found newness and adventure in what might seem like quite boring encounters. In reality, our world, and the goodness inherent in it, is anything but mundane. Rather, it is a spectacle to behold if, and only if, we retain the curiosity and openness that kids demonstrate so well. Sadly, though, there is a generation of young people growing up today who are struggling to see how adulthood, although hard, can also be healthy and fun. We owe it to ourselves and others to pursue this with vigor no matter how old we become.