Students Speak: Just Play

Apr 23, 2024

We arrived in Arizona with light baggage and heavy hearts. My mom, dad, and two younger brothers were all present, but someone was missing: my little sister-turned-angel, Mandy.

She had been gone for just under a month when we piled into our Yukon XL (perfect for four kids, but far too big for three) and drove 1200 miles to Prescott, a small town about two hours from the Grand Canyon, in search of an inexplicable something that our suburban neighborhood couldn’t offer.

Our time in Prescott was limited—we had to be home in a week for Mandy’s would-be fifth birthday—but we made the most of it. We spent our days hiking, allowing nature’s tranquility to soothe our aching hearts. Every towering tree showed a vivacity, a persistence, a vibrance that impressed itself deeply on my consciousness; each one offered a sense of continuity, a promise that life would go on. The unending forests, sheer cliffs, and impossibly deep canyons gave me a new sense of perspective: this moment – my entire life – was so small in the grand scheme of things.

It was impossible, in the presence of such majesty, not to acknowledge a greater power at work—not only in nature but in my own life—and this reassured me infinitely. Slowly, in the presence of crisp air and idyllic creation, I began traversing the arduous path towards peace and healing along with steep hills and rocky trails. The togetherness offered by our trip was just as important to that journey as nature’s brilliance. Distanced from the claims of a busy life—from athletics, education, work, well-meaning friends—we found rest and solace in one another.

The change of scenery, the ability to spend all our time together, offered new possibilities, new capacities for hope, joy, and love. Some of our most meaningful conversations, our most beautiful remembrances, happened in the repose of our small mountain cabin.

Our time in Arizona more fully impressed upon us the lessons that we had begun to learn after Mandy’s departure. Almost immediately, we became aware that there were many values we could glean from her life, the foremost being “Just Play” – but it was only when we distanced ourselves from our “normal” lives that we could recognize and avoid the traps that prevented us from simply enjoying the moment.

In Prescott, we were free from the daily worries that often ensnared us; we were allowed to be together, to be quiet, to be still. We were allowed to Just Play. When I returned (albeit reluctantly) to the suburbs, I did so with an increased awareness. I had found peace and healing in the wilderness; I had discovered the true meaning of living in the moment, and I had no intention of forgetting it. Prescott, with its breathtaking beauty and tranquil seclusion, allowed me to fully embrace a lifestyle that would honor my precious sister – a lifestyle by which I still abide.

I continue striving to release the meaningless worries that crowd my mind, filling it instead with joy and gratitude – and, most importantly, I continue striving to Just Play.

Written by Makenzie Crum for the World Is A Classroom essay contest. Makenzie, 17, attends Olathe North High School in Ottawa, Kansas.

Photo Courtesy of Makenzie Crum.