Nothing moves in a straight line,
But in arcs, epicycles, spirals and gyres.
Nothing living grows in cubes, cones, or rhomboids,
But we take a little here and we give a little there,
And the wind blows right through us…
My colleague the Rabbi fell on some ice in the parking lot of her congregation in December of 2009. Several months later, she was diagnosed with a brain injury, and was unable to work any longer. In 2011, she started a beautiful blog called Brainstorm. In her blog, she described one of the curious ways that her brain is different now. She writes:
I didn’t notice that I no longer broke time up into chunks like minutes, hours, days. In, fact, I didn’t notice there was such a thing as time at all. I still don’t feel time. I don’t know what day it is. I have a watch that tells me and I am learning to memorize that information in rehab. If you and I meet and begin to talk, I will be totally present. I have attained Buddha-hood; there is no before or after — only now.2
Later, she asks, “How long is a year anyway? Is it before lunch or after? And is February leaves, snow, mud or sun? That is how I tell time. … We are either in leaves or mud right now. it is hard to tell.” “Soon we will stack logs for the wood stove. Put on socks and fleece, sit on the porch swing and drink tomato soup in the mugs the children made. I do not feel months, days or dates, but I haven’t lost the seasons. I never knew how precious they were until I lost every other marker of time’s passage.”
We think that time moves relentlessly in a straight line, going from past to present to future. Similarly, we might imagine our spiritual journey as a going forward from one thing to another. But our relationship to time is mysterious, located in a spot in our brain which can be damaged or destroyed. If that happens, then linear time disappears. But the circular patterns of movement are still observable. All around us there is evidence that life moves in cycles: the earth spinning around its axis each day and night, planets spinning around the sun, tides going in and out, the stars circling round the night sky.
Some cycles are easier to notice than others. Here in Maine, the autumn comes with bright colors and the falling of leaves. Winter is cold and snowy, spring full of mud and new plants, summer warm and full of plentiful greens. These seasonal changes register in a deep layer of our minds.
Poem Excerpt from Marge Piercy, “I Saw Her Dancing,” in Available Light, p. 118.