The following is an excerpt—the last chapter, actually—of The Year of Listening, Loving, and Living, the year-long companion guide to my book Loveable…
Several years ago, we took down the Christmas tree. Again.
The year before, the ritual had been depressing to me. Not because the holiday season was over, but because we’d done it before. Many times. It felt like, somehow, after a year of striving and scrambling and doing and accomplishing, we were right back where we started. Square one. We hadn’t progressed; we’d returned.
It turns out, life isn’t a straight line. It’s a circle. If you can’t accept that, it can be pretty depressing. At least, that’s what an African immigrant told me. Right before he fired me.
At the time, I had been completing my post-doctoral residency—moving forward and rushing ahead—and he had just arrived in the States to continue his own education. In the course of the initial interview, I asked him where he hoped to be in five years. He looked confused. I asked him why.
He told me.
In the United States, he said, we expect progress all the time. We’re always trying to get somewhere else. We think life is a straight line. But where he came from in Africa, they were farmers. Seasons mattered. And the seasons came and went and returned again. They knew life was a circle. Everything comes and goes and returns again. Everything. Our sadness. Our joy. The things we love and the things we don’t. I only saw him once. He never came back.
Now, I know why.
I couldn’t help him, because I was in denial about how life really works. I couldn’t accept life is about circularity and rhythm and returning. I couldn’t accept that all of existence is in orbit, everything from massive planets to microscopic cells are moving in a circle. I couldn’t accept that, as Stephen King says, life is a wheel, and it always returns to where it started.
Why do we forget this?
Because we suffer from the dis-ease of the straight line. We’ve been taught to believe life is only meaningful if we’re getting from here to there—doing a lot, becoming more important, accruing more stuff, feeling safer, and increasing our comfort. Even the good work of redeeming the world can become its own straight line, as we single-handedly try to move the world from Point A to Point B. We pretend life is what it’s not. We need to get real about how this whole thing works.
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