Meditation on the Game of “Hot Bread and Butter”


Twenty children on a street in the city. It is Spring, just after dinner. Suddenly, something begins pulling them together. They cluster near a wide stoop. There is a cry of "Not It!" Then silence.

They cluster more tightly. They close their eyes. One body is released: a boy, about ten. His eyes are open. He has a belt in his hand. He is running back and forth across the street; stopping every so often - near steps, a truck, an abandoned car, an apartment door. He circles around the group. I can hear some giggles, some "hurry-ups." The boy is now walking on tiptoe towards the group. His hands are empty. Everyone else’s eyes are closed. He is right next to them now. "Hot Bread and Butter," he says, "come and get your supper."

The children scatter like an exploded lightbulb, shattering into screams. Some stay close to each other. Others gallop into the frontier, probing the darkest secrets of the street. More screams. Someone has found the belt! There she is, rushing around, twirling the belt over her head like a lariat, hitting everybody who dares be near. Everyone races home. Until the last one herds himself into the cowering mass. Laughter. Finally silence. Eyes closed. Listening. She hides the belt."Hot Bread and Butter," among other things, represents an idea of power. To gain power, you must 1) take certain risks, and 2) be lucky. Alliances don’t seem to be of much help. Those who stay too close to home don't have much fun.

Whoever is brave enough to leave home behind, and lucky enough to find the belt, gets to hide the belt next time.
You gain power through risk and luck - not through direct confrontation - but only once the power has already been left for you to find. As a child grows towards adulthood, he ranges further and further away from home, approaching the time in which adult power is left to him - if he can find it. But it is the opportunity that he must seize, there is no person to confront. The power of an adult cannot be taken from an adult, it must be discovered within the person of the child.

Whoever wishes to be safe can stay as close to the base as necessary. Some children never get hit. They also never get the belt.