There's an inevitability that that arises from handing someone a cape: They immediately want to take it out for a spin.
We've just completed a week-long crash course in superhero creation at the Native Project's summer camp. At their summer camp, kids involved in the Native Project learn everything from reading to robotics as well as take weekly field trips to learn about tribal culture. In our room, they invent a superhero and create a comic telling the origin story of their character.
And this year, we challenged kids to put themselves into their superhero's shoes — or rather, their costume. With brightly-colored capes draped over their shoulders, they hunched with intense concentration over the work of personalizing their mask: lightning bolts, cat whiskers, ornate designs — each detail reflecting a piece of their hero's identity and strengths. And as everyone began to put on their costumes, the energy in the room hit a fever pitch.
A few kids couldn't help but dash around the room in pursuit of an imaginary foe. Capes were flung about dramatically as each child posed in front of the green screen for their official superhero portrait. Some of the most blasé students were soon bumping their way to the front of the photo line, sheepishly revising their earlier decision to skip the cape.
I met up a group of friends after work. As we chatted, the conversation turned to how much fun I'd had seeing some of the kids light up as they created their costume. I remembered then that the capes were still in my car.
My friend, a fairly serious adult exhausted from a demanding day at work, hadn't had a cape on for more than five minutes when he leapt up and threatened to climb onto the table. "I have the irresistible urge to 'fly' off something!" he announced. (Fear not: We urged him to reconsider.)
My husband transformed his cape into a rather handsome ascot. We all experimented with the age-old question of how to best wear a cape: Is it over the shoulders, behind the shoulders, or one shoulder on and one off?
Soon, strangers were gathered around, sifting through the box of capes for their signature color. A server waltzed through to deliver meals, bright orange cape flowing behind him. Just like the kids at summer camps, each adult lit up, stood a little taller and lived with a little more flair for the time they were wearing their cape.
We've all come around to the idea that play can be a great way to learn a new skill. If we aren't sure about trying drawing or writing or coding, it can create a new path to experimentation.
But including play in our lives is revolutionary simply because it's playful. It draws us out of the fixed way in which we look at ourselves and create space for confidence to grow. It can offer paths to connection. If we're in pain, it can gently guide us to identify our feelings, and express ourselves to others in a way that feels safe. Even when it's whimsical and imaginary, play frees us to imagine very real, new possibilities for ourselves.