Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - May 30, 2008


I think most days of our lives are a bit like breathing. We sense there is a rhythm playing out, yet at any instant we are so caught up in the momentary details that we are not really aware of the pattern. Each workday, in its essential aspects - when we get up, our morning routine, what we eat, how we get to work or school - are pretty much like the one before and the one after. The weekend breaks the pattern, yet each weekend frequently is similar to the one before. Perhaps we sleep later, do yard work, go shopping. So the pattern of our weeks are just larger circles.

It's the breaking of a pattern that makes us more aware that it exists. For me, and I would guess most teachers, the end of the school year is certainly a pattern breaker. And the larger the cycle broken, the more acutely the break is felt.

I sensed this more than I thought I would when I went to K-State's commencement exercises a couple of weeks ago. As the names of the students I had in class were called, I knew that for many it was the end of their schooling - 17 years of getting up most mornings with the schoolroom being the focus of their day.

Maybe I've been thinking more about this circle thing recently because of Husband Art. A week or so ago, he was playing some songs by Harry Chapin, a singer and songwriter from the 1970s. Chapin seemed to be the most fond of songs that told a story, and several of them spoke to the patterns of life. Perhaps his most famous song was his 1974 hit, "Cat's in the Cradle." But the song that struck me recently is "All my life's a circle."

"All my life's a circle;
Sunrise and sundown;
Moon rolls thru the nighttime;
Till the daybreak comes around.
All my life's a circle;
But I can't tell you why;
Season's spinning round again;
The years keep rollin' by."

But, of course, things do change. While there is an essential cyclic nature to our lives, there are also transitions.

"No straight lines make up my life;
And all my roads have bends;
There's no clear-cut beginnings;
And so far no dead-ends."

These latter lines hit the mark for me after graduation when Art and I stopped at a restaurant for lunch. I ran into a former student whom I had last seen almost 20 years ago. But this time Mindy was accompanied by a husband and two small boys. In chatting, I discovered she was working in her area of study and I found that gratifying.

Then, just as she and her family were preparing to leave, she turned and asked about Dave, my former boss and the fellow who had been in charge of Student Publications when Mindy was in school.

"Dave's dead," Art blurted out.

It startled her. All of us who knew Dave had found him to be slightly bigger than life - someone you remembered. And so for Mindy, just as with anyone, without any knowledge to the contrary, she had imagined he was still doing what he had always loved so much - that he was still completing his yearly cycle.

But like Chapin, Dave reached his end earlier than most of us. Mindy had come to Manhattan to watch her nephew graduate, to witness the finish of one cycle and found another had also ended.

Like so many things in life, the patterns of our lives can provide comfort or they can be smothering. Breaking the patterns can be scary or exciting. Trying to find a good balance is perhaps one of the tricks we have to master.

But for now, "no straight lines make up my life; all my roads have bends; there's no clear-cut beginnings and so far no dead-ends."

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