I recently learned that my friend Ray, a fellow librarian I’ve known almost as long as I’ve been working, is about to retire. Ray is a wistful, sweet-tempered man universally liked by those who know him, and he will be missed. His leaving recalls to mind something we talked about years ago, when I first began researching the seasons.
Many people and many cultures see the seasons as a cycle, even a circle. My first grade teacher had a chart on the wall which showed the months of the year in a big circle, with pictures of the seasons they covered in a quadrant at the center: March, April and May were spring; June, July and August were summer. Since then, almost subconsciously, I have always pictured the seasons as a great circle spinning out the years. But I got to wondering whether this is how other people see the seasons, and I started asking around. Many people did not really understand the question: they don’t really ‘see’ the seasons in any sort of graphic way, not like I do.
But Ray did. He told me that he saw the seasons as a series of doors he passed through, one after the other, as he moved through the years. I found this to be an interesting, even a compelling way to look at the passage of time. It seems to imply progress through life, rather than the endless round of repetition defined by the cycle of the seasons imagery—even if that cycle does include seasons of renewal. I also found it striking to ponder what happens when one reaches the final door. Does it open onto anything—Elysian Field or dark Underworld—or simply deny access, á la Kafka? Other things have happened in my life lately that keep me thinking about these things.
My route to work takes me every morning past the road that leads to the house where I spent most of my childhood. A few weeks ago, having a few minutes to spare, I finally gave in and turned that direction. I found that my childhood home was no more; that it has been torn down and now an empty lot sits where it once stood. I don’t know how I feel about that: as with many people there is much in my childhood about which I feel ambivalent at best.
Also, just this week, my stepson and his wife had their first child, essentially my first grandchild. My wife and I saw the baby last night. I was most fascinated by how my stepson, once a tough young rebel, nestled the tiny life against his shoulder as if he would never let go. Nowhere, perhaps, does one feel the passage of time more fully than in the addition, and the welcome acceptance, of a new generation.
I don’t know if we are in an endless cycle or we are passing through doors. I don’t know if events like the loss of my childhood home followed by the birth of a grandchild bookend my life or draw it out. And I don’t know if it is necessary for me to understand these things or to just get on with my life the best I know how. Does it matter what I call things, how I see things? Marcus Aurelius said it best almost two-thousand years ago: ‘The universe is transformation, and life is opinion.’
Even as I quote Marcus Aurelius, it draws me back to Ray: one of the few people I know who might still read and appreciate books like The Meditations. I hope he will have more time for that now, that his doors continue to open on new seasons for a long time to come.