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Michiana Chronicles writers bring portraits of our life and times to the 88.1 WVPE airwaves every Friday at 7:45 am during Morning Edition and over the noon hour at 12:30 pm during Here and Now. Michiana Chronicles was first broadcast in October 2001. Contact the writers through their individual e-mails and thanks for listening!

Michiana Chronicles: Shadow jumping

Ken Smith
Shadow jumping

Kids have a talent for boredom. Even during a kid’s favorite game, boredom sooner or later taps a young person on the fontanel and whispers, “This is boring, boring, boring, boring, boring . . .” No matter how glorious the game was ten minutes before, their heroic athleticism, the suspense, the drama, once boredom steps out onto the playing field, kids, always living in the moment, have no choice but to change the rules of the game. Sorry, Abner Doubleday, just look away. Kids hear the message that boredom brings.

Once upon a time, three sixth grade boys stood every morning on the corner of Rayburn and Samoa, waiting for the big yellow bus. The boys would arrive early and stand there. As a trio, they were dismal conversationalists, so they stood there every day, looking down at their scuffed shoes on the pavement, saying nothing. It felt as though the school bus must have broken down and would never arrive to scoop them up. Even early in the school year, this was boring. (School finely tunes a young person’s antennae to the approach of boredom.)

Fairly often, a car would pass along Rayburn, and because the boys were looking down they’d see the car’s shadow flash over their shoes anchored on the pavement. Now shoes suddenly engulfed by a car’s shadow was interesting. Even so, before too long, watching the occasional shadow flashing over their shoes also became boring. But one of the boys heard the message that boredom brings, stirred himself, and changed the game’s rules.

He said, “I bet you can’t jump just before the shadow hits your shoes and stay in the air until after the shadow has passed.”

You could tell from the faces of the trio that a little of life’s curiosity and suspense had reawakened right there on the corner. Could a boy leap into the air just before the car’s shadow reached his shoes and stay aloft until after the shadow had passed? Was this even a playable game? And would one of us be better at this Herculean challenge than the others? We needed to know.

The autumn sun was low on the horizon, watching and waiting for the game to commence. A car approached on Rayburn, dragging a long car-shaped shadow with it. We readied ourselves, gauged the shadow’s speed, and the three of us leaped into the air.

It was hard to tell that first time whether we succeeded. Did one of us jump too late or land too early? We tried again several times that morning, and the next day morning too. We became very good at shadow-jumping by the end of the week. Timing had to be perfect, but we were young heroes of sport. We were the only people on the entire planet playing this game, and we were the very best.

I suppose one of the parents in the neighborhood might have looked out the window from time to time to see if we were behaving and to make sure we found our way onto the school bus. What they would have seen that week was three sixth grade boys standing, standing, standing, then leaping arms akimbo up into the autumn air, then landing, and then standing quietly for a strange unpredictable period of time and suddenly, in unison, leaping once again into the air. The adults had the tact never to mention this to us later.

And on the following Sunday, we changed the clocks. Daylight Savings Time was over, and when we stood on the corner of Rayburn and Samoa that Monday morning, the sun was in the wrong place. There were no shadows to jump. The game was never spoken of and never played again.

We were agile, though, weren’t we? Not because we could leap at just the right moment as a car’s shadow passed, but because we heard the voice of boredom and changed the rules of the game.

Music: "Wrong Foot Forward" by Flook

Ken Smith writes about algebra, bikes, con artists, donuts, exercise, failure to exercise, grandparents, harmonica, introverts, jury duty, kings of long ago, Lipitor, meteors, night fishing, Olympic athletes, peace and quiet, rattlesnakes, silly sex education, Twitter, unpaid debts to our fellow human beings, the velocity of an unladen swallow, World War II, extroverts, Young People of Today, and the South Bend Zoo.