01 September 2006


I’ve been thinking about circles lately, noticing circles around me in architecture, in design. I tend to see circles more than other shapes because I’ve never really liked them much. I’m a linear person. I like the order and predictability of lines and angles. I much prefer straight lines to curves.

It’s funny how life sometimes takes this linear person in a circle, back to the point from which I started. The notion occurs to me this afternoon as I sit on a wooden bench, looking out the slanted window of the second floor of the music building at Drake University. A light rain has been falling, and it blurs my view of the sidewalk below. It is summer now and the building is nearly empty. All is quiet, except for the sound of a lone clarinet from down the hall.

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Sitting here today, my mind wanders back to another summer twenty-some years ago when I first climbed the steps of this very building. I was a high school student at the time, and I was apprehensive about studying piano at a university. Yet my instructor was kind and funny and full of stories. I found him entertaining, and in the process I actually learned a few things.

I practiced my lessons on this very same floor on the days I was dropped off early or hadn’t worked hard enough at home. In this same building, I prepared for recitals in the auditorium with my instructor. He always sat in the top row. And no matter how I performed, he always clapped. It was here in this building that I gained confidence in my abilities and made decisions about my future, whatever I thought that meant. You know, in summer, the future always seems full of possibilities.

I remember after that particular summer, my life began to change. I continued my piano lessons and eventually left for college. Following that came a move to Chicago. Marriage. A series of high-pressure jobs. Graduate school. Apartments, houses. A move back to Iowa. A baby. What had started as a clean, linear path began to curve, although I didn’t think about it at the time.

Today as I sit on this wooden bench, I can hear the familiar flip, flop of sandals walking toward me from down the hall. I peek around the corner and from a distance, I can see a teen-aged girl toss her long hair confidently over one shoulder. She swings her black music bag back and forth. I move so she can’t see me.

Twenty-some years ago, this girl with the long, auburn hair could have been me. It’s me I see in her walk, in the way she carries herself. Yet this young woman walking down the hall is not me. It’s my daughter, nearly the same age I was when I walked this very path. She, too, is here to study music. To take lessons from an instructor whose studio just happens to be next door to that of my old teacher. It’s summer, and her future is full of possibilities.

Funny how life sometimes brings you back to where you started. And when you get there, you realize you’ve actually traveled in a circle when you thought you were headed in a straight line.

I’m starting to believe now that circles might be ok after all. A circular path in life brings you back to a place that is comfortably familiar and allows you to see it for what it was, and what it is now, with a new perspective. It enables you to see how different your life is than you’d expected it to be, how much you’ve changed, and how much you really haven’t. It begs you to compare your current reality to the future that was so full of possibilities. And somehow, contemplating all of this lifts you up and readies you for the path ahead, whatever shape it may take.

“Ready to go, Mom?” she asks.

I smile. Yeah, I’m ready.


The Smart One said...

Very poignant.....and true.

Always going in a straight line will never return one to the start.

Perhaps some of us who seem to just be going in circles chasing our tail may actually just be flying through life in an very efficient manner??

Vicki said...

how very very true, i see these circles often in my life with my daughters, I now feel the pain that my mother must have felt when I moved away and didn't need her on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis any more. I have always felt that what goes around comes around, the good and the bad, and the sad! I don't like being at the the meeting of the circle!