It seems like I’ve been here before
I can’t remember when
But I got this funny feeling
That I’ll be back once again
— Harry Chapin, “Circle”
My life is full of cycles. Some are obvious. Some become apparent only after I’ve circled back to somewhere I’ve been before. And some cycles suddenly feel familiar when I realize I’ve experienced it in some other part of my life.
I’ve always been drawn to these cycles. I’m endlessly fascinated by the beauty and symbolism of sunrise and sunset. Even before I took photos, I was mesmerized by this cycle that made it seem as though the sun and moon were always playfully chasing one another.
Over the last decade, I’ve become deeply connected to the seasonal cycle. The more I watch autumn come and make everything dormant in winter — only to bring everything back to life in spring — the more I compare it to other things in my life.
Today I learned about theologian Walter Brueggemann’s conception of a cycle of orientation, disorientation and reorientation — and I immediately identified with the pattern. It seems that I’ve gone through this cycle over and over again.
I have been been going through the darkest of night for most of the last decade, but Brueggemann’s concept gives me hope that the break of a new dawn is almost here.
In the broadest possible terms, my early life was about smoothly orienting myself to the world around me. Everything came easily. I expected to be great. Others expected greatness from me as well. But disorientation started setting in — it’s hard to say exactly when — and I entered a long period during which it felt as though everything was wrong.
I felt horribly disoriented.
Everything I had thought about the world — about humans, God, the church, politics, the culture, my country and myself — was upended. I felt confused. I struggled to find a new way to interpret the world and to make sense of what I had experienced.
As I walked through this deep period of disorientation, I felt bitterly alone and bitterly alienated from almost everything which I had once loved.
Slowly, I started building new conceptions of reality. I came to understand God in entirely different ways. I had to accept that I had been wrong about most of what I believed — almost all of the simplistic ideas I had been taught as a child.
And now I have found myself slowly emerging into a reorientation to the world. By embracing things which never would have made sense to me earlier in life — and by rejecting things I once accepted as obvious — I’m emerging into a period of light and growth.
(There are echos of this idea in the concept of thesis, antithesis and synthesis which was so central to the philosopher Hegel’s work, but I don’t want to go deeply into that.)
I see these circles playing out in various things. In love. With work. In art. Even insofar as self-improvement goes.
And I suddenly have the odd notion that we keep circling through distinct patterns until we finally get something right.
If I’m stuck in a circle — and I see a cycle happening again and again — it probably means that I haven’t learned something that God insists that I learn. It means I haven’t gotten something right. It means I’m being sent back to correct whatever I need to correct.
In the movie “Groundhog Day,” Bill Murray’s character repeats the same day over and over and over again. The movie probably depicts a few dozen versions of the same day, but the original writer of the concept said in an interview that he envisioned the process going on for thousands of years.
There’s so much that I don’t yet have right. I don’t know how to love people who hate me. I don’t know how to love those who hurt me. I don’t even always know how to love those who love me.
There’s so much I still have to get right. There are so many of the “normal” world’s concepts that I still have to unlearn. There are so many wrong ways to live — ways which most people believe are perfectly normal — that I haven’t yet come out of my personal Groundhog Day to become the true intended me on the other side.
I need to love truly.
I need to create authentically.
I need to trust my instincts fully.
I need to learn how to become a creator, just as God was Creator.
I need to become the man, the husband, the father, the friend, the artist, the writer, the human that I’ve never quite known how to be.
I’ve gone through periods of thinking I knew everything. I’ve gone through periods of realizing I knew nothing. Now — in this period of reorientation — I question everything as I wait for love to finally find me to walk on this complicated and harrowing and joyful journey together.
The great songwriter Harry Chapin understood this back when he wrote his classic song, “Circle.” As I’ve thought about this concept all day, I kept returning to the song.
I found you a thousand times
I guess you done the same
But then we lose each other
It’s just like a children’s game
But as I see you here again
The thought runs through my mind
Our love is like a circle
Let’s go ’round one more time
And that’s what I have to come back to. Again. Everything seems to circle back to here for me. Everything in my damaged core centers around finding and nurturing the love that’s missing. The love I always craved, always needed, always wanted.
I don’t know how to be loved. I’m not certain how to be lovable. I just know that everything I need — and everything in these repeating circles that come and go, big and small — they all revolve around this question.
As long as a love remains alive, how can you do anything other than circle back to it again and again — until you finally find a way to allow that love to live forever?
I’m thankful to have entered a period of reorientation. I have faith it will give me a harvest unlike what I’ve imagined before. But I won’t get there without love. Until then, I keep circling again and again in the hopes of learning how to love purely and how to finally be loved for good.