Circular Living in a Linear World

FOR much of my life I've been either a student or teacher, caught up in an academic calendar with clearly marked beginnings and endings. Now that I'm in a year-round occupation, I've noticed how easy it is to slip into a life of bland linearity, where seasons are identified only with grumbling trips to the attic to pull out winter or summer clothes. I'll admit I miss what teachers describe as ``the three best reasons to teach - June, July, and August.'' But what I miss even more is the pattern of that life: the anticipation of August, the crisp smell of new paper in September, the solid seriousness of January and the excitement of May.

When I broach these thoughts to friends who work 50 weeks a year and have lost track of the seasons in their lives, I get little sympathy. It's about time you learn how the other half lives, they say. But it's not the way people should live. So even though I've switched to a ``year round'' profession, I try to keep living as I always have - in the round. I don't want to ignore the seasons and cycles of life.

Of course, it isn't easy to practice circular living in a linear-thinking world. For example, it's simple to defy nature's own cycles, the seasons, by shopping in climate-controlled malls, buying clothes at least four months ahead, and planning Christmas in August.

We live in a society where the first crack of bat against ball signals not spring but spring training. Baseball is played during football season, basketball is played during baseball season, and football is played all the time.

Even religion has gotten into the act by ignoring the liturgical calendar, that ancient reminder of yearly rites and rituals, in favor of a more contemporary appeal to living in the ``now.''

Linearity even shows up in the way we keep time. Instead of a watch's hands sweeping the same course every 12 hours, we have frighteningly precise digital mechanisms that define each moment with date, hour, minute, and second.

Something in me recoils at this exactitude, because it denies the delightfully circuitous route of human progress. It seems narrow-minded to study the repetitions of human history and the smooth elliptical orbits of planets or electrons, and not apply their circular metaphors to our own lives.

Why do we let ourselves live in this monotonous line-scape? Maybe it's the disposable society we've created. It's easier to throw away a skirt than mend it, to discard a friendship than save it. Because we don't expect things to last, we don't keep them around long enough to witness their subtle, cyclical changes.

Also, we've gotten used to having what we want when we want it. If the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, then who wants to fool around with all this circular stuff, which means waiting our turn or doing without? But it seems to me that we appreciate things more when we don't cut in line to reach them.

Although we've insulated ourselves from the natural world with layers of commerce and convenience, we're beginning to realize - at least when it comes to the environment - that we do pass this way again, and should pick up after ourselves.

I've begun to appreciate the generational patterns that ripple out from our lives like stones dropped in water, pulsing outward even after we are gone. Although we have but one childhood, we relive it first through our children's and then our grandchildren's eyes.

As I prepare to give birth to our first child, I often catch myself remembering moments of my own childhood - Christmas mornings; summer evenings when every blade of grass was touched with wonder; ordinary afternoons swinging in our backyard, my legs pumping, heart racing. It thrills me to know the wheel is turning and I will see the world again through a child's eyes.

Entering this next round also brings new knowledge - of how quickly time passes and how much there is to learn. I know my husband and I will understand our parents and their choices far more thoroughly now we're embarking on the journey they took a generation ago. True, times have changed and child rearing is, if anything, more challenging. Yet it still requires basic, heartfelt decisions. Through them, we link ourselves to those who've gone before us.

Circular living means connecting to something larger than ourselves. It gives us a place in time, a reason for being and a wisdom the ancients had, but we have lost. Living in cycles doesn't mean going in circles or growing comfortable with our mistakes because we repeat them so often. Just the opposite. It means we correct them now or else await their inevitable return. It's the linear world where we're more likely to lose our way, because in it we have no second chances.

I haven't become a teacher again in order to live in the round, but I do pay attention to cycles instead of ignoring them. I celebrate the seasons by walking in the countryside. I read books that distill the experiences of generations and reveal their circular patterns. I absolutely refuse to wear a digital watch.

And every once in a while, I stand still for a moment. It's during these pauses that I renew my promise to live each day with the knowledge that our world is not flat but round - and that we have no endings that are not also beginnings.

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