Waldlaw Blog

Monday, April 04, 2011

The Circle Game

Do any of you remember the beautiful, haunting song by Joni Mitchell called "The Circle Game"? It addresses the circles of life, as children grow up and elders grow old. My friend Judy and I used to sing it to our kids when they were little. Now those kids are looking at colleges, and Judy died of breast cancer almost a year ago. "And the seasons, they go round and round/And the painted ponies go up and down/We're captive on the carousel of time./We can't return, we can only look behind from where we came/And go round and round and round in the Circle Game."

This song seems to capture the moment that I -- and many of my friends and colleagues -- are finding ourselves in -- watching our children grow up and out; watching our parents grow old and pass away. I am thinking these thoughts, and writing this blog, from 36027 feet, as I jet my way home from Boston on Virgin America (and thank you, Virgin, for the in-air wifi option, that allows me to use the 6.25 hours in the sky productively!).

I have been in Boston for the past week, on a true "Circle Game" journey. Here's a brief recap: Last Tuesday morning, I got up at the crack of dawn to catch a flight to New Haven, CT (via Philadelphia) to meet my son there. Travel observations of note: Contrary to predictions, I did not get assaulted in the Philly airport, even though I was wearing a cozy and attractive San Francisco Giants World Champions sweatshirt. Beyond that, the only noteworthy thing about the actual trip to New Haven was the propeller plane on which I flew from Philly to New Haven. I honestly didn't even know they still had propeller planes in service! Anyway, me and about 38 of my new best friends -- instantly bonded to each other by the shared experience of actually being expected to board a plane that looked like it had been flying pretty much non-stop since the 50's and was probably due for a long rest -- enjoyed a calm and uneventful (and blessedly short!) flight, arriving in New Haven in just under an hour. So much for the trip itself....

Why was I headed to New Haven? This is where the Circle Game part of the story begins.

My elder son is a Junior in high school, which means that it is time to start thinking seriously about where he might want to go to college. So, for spring break, we did the almost-mandatory spring-break-of-Junior-year college tour. For a variety of reasons, we ended up touring some of the New England schools of note: Columbia, NYU, Yale, Wesleyan, Brown, Harvard, Boston University, Tufts and Northeastern. Nine colleges in six days -- quite a whirlwind! But what a wonderful opportunity for both my son and me to get a sense of what college is like in 2011 -- to get a much clearer picture of the range of academic options out there -- and to start to get a read on the types of schools where he will thrive. It was exciting -- for both me and my son -- to see him on these college campuses, young and smart and healthy and excited about launching the next chapter of his life. Very much a forward-looking experience.

Our tour ended in Boston and Cambridge. Cambridge is where I grew up, and my mother still lives there. My brother currently is living in neighboring Medford, where he is getting his PhD at Tufts. I went to law school at Northeastern University in Boston. So visits to Boston tend to be trips down memory lane, as well as opportunities to catch up with people from my past who remain in the area. This time, the interspersing of college tours with visits to family and friends who remain in and around Boston, crystallized the forward-looking/backward-looking moment that I, and many of my peers, are in. My mother slipped and fell over the weekend of March 26-27, fracturing a hip for the second time in 5 months (the other hip from the one she fractured over Halloween weekend so that now, all of a sudden, what was her "bad" leg has become her "good" leg). Visits with mom this time around were in the hospital and then in rehab. Because she's 87 and hospitalized -- and therefore seriously thinking about the end of her life on this earth -- these visits involved a lot of reminiscing and active wondering about how her life story will end. Very much a backward-looking experience.

College campus -- hospital -- college campus -- rehab. Are you getting the idea??

It is an amazing experience watching the many, varied ways our elders find to exit this earth. My grandfather -- physically weak after multiple serious heart attacks -- found the gumption to get himself all the way from Cambridge, Massachusetts to a small town in the Austrian Alps where he had lived before being forced to flee by the Nazis. Once there, he died in his sleep within just a few days. My grandmother, whip smart and fiercely independent to the end, died in a fall returning to her bedroom from her bathroom at the age of 96, having walked past a portable commode, a walker and several canes -- all set out to avoid her making middle-of-the-night treks to the toilet without proper precautions. My beloved father died of what can only be described as old age, at 90, with his body and mind simultaneously drifting into a decline that afforded him the luxury of not having to comprehend that he was going while he was on his way out. My mother now appears also to be in a significant decline, but she has the misfortune that her head and her body are not fully in synch, so she still has the mental capacity to understand that she is losing her physical and cognitive abilities and is left feeling depressed and out of control.

Practicing family law as I do, I spend my days helping people navigate some of the major, vulnerable moments in their lives. Having babies. Getting divorced. This trip was a reminder of some of the other major life transitions that I don't see as much in the office -- those that come when our children are grown enough to venture out of the nest and find their own way; and those that come at the end of life, when our bodies and minds start looking for ways to finish the story. "So the years spin by and now the boy is twenty/Though his dreams have lost some grandeur coming true/There'll be new dreams, maybe better dreams and plenty/Before the last revolving year is through./And the seasons they go round and round/And the painted ponies go up and down/We're captive on the carousel of time./We can't return, we can only look behind/From where we came/And go round and round and round/In the Circle Game."


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