The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Lining Up April 19, 2015

Every time I hear someone refer to the ‘circle of life’ I cringe. Because I don’t think of life a a circle at all. Seasons, migratory and mating patterns might be cyclical in nature, but our tiny private lives are not. To my thinking the circle idea is just plain wrong. If this were a circle we were in, we’d end up at the place where we started, and we’d do it all over again. (For the sake of this conversation, let’s not concern ourselves with the afterlife – I’m just talkin worldly stuff here.) People are fond of explaining away the death of a pet to their little ones by saying that ‘it’s all part of the circle of life’. I think it might be better to tell the child that every living thing in the world dies. Life always comes to an end. Yes, it can be sad, but it happens to all of us. When I hear someone say ‘circle’, I kind of expect things to start all over again. And in a way they do – only the subsequent rounds are played with a new cast in brand-new situations. There may be similarities in old and new events – but still, that doesn’t make the whole play a circle. It’s still just a trajectory of actions moving into the future. The way I see my life here on this mortal coil – it’s a line. You start at the beginning, and you proceed through all sorts of events until you reach the end. And if you’re successful, you make it to old age. Then you die. You travel from point A to point B, making a line. Not a circle.

The eighth graders are doing the Lion King for their class play, and I’m playing piano. One of the most popular songs from the play is, of course, the ‘Circle of Life’. I’ve become a bit more immune to the expression due to the number of times I’ve now heard it, but as I listen I can’t help but reflect more deeply on the transient nature of our brief lives here on the planet. Yesterday Elihu and I attended the funeral of one of Greenfield’s old-timers, and today we’ll go to a birthday party of two wee ones. Life and death side by side like this make me more keenly aware of this finite timeline we’re all living, and how important it is to live with intention and gratitude as we go along. Our sense of time may slow or speed up depending on our age and our circumstances, but at the end of the day, when it’s time to say goodbye forever, it always seems as if life wasn’t quite long enough – even when it was. I’m sure that Olga, at 94, felt it had been long enough. And I never worry about those who’ve died. All those prayers for the dead strike me as just plain useless and beside the point. I’m not worried about them; it’s those of us left behind who need the prayers. Those of us who are left behind to bear the heartache and loss have a much harder job by far than the ones who are dead and gone. Those of us whose lines are still being drawn, those whose ending points are still somewhere over the distant horizon…

IMG_7482Elihu had never been to a funeral before, so I thought it would be a good life experience for him to have. We didn’t know Olga well, but she was our neighbor and it felt good to know she was always there. Her passing truly marks the end of an era here in Greenfield.

IMG_7485As soon as we walked in we saw the Carrico clan… they live across the big field, and a couple houses over from Olga.

IMG_7509Elihu loves little kids, and we’re so glad to have these wonderful girls as neighbors.

IMG_7496Stephanie’s belly is more like a circle than a line for sure! She’s coming along with mystery baby number four!

IMG_7488Inside, Elihu marvels over the changes that happen in a long lifetime.

IMG_7492Olga, young and old.

IMG_7489It’s nice to see smiles on such a say day.

IMG_7519The funeral procession makes a long line up Lake Ave.

IMG_7521After Catholic Mass at the local church, the family brings Olga to her final resting place in the town cemetery. Elihu had also never been to a church service like this – while it was in reality about forty-five minutes, he could’ve sworn it was three hours. ! Talk about experiencing time differently! (I so get it though.)

IMG_7545It was a lovely day, a lovely service, a lovely goodbye.

IMG_7552The line between the cemetery and the field seems to stretch on forever….

 

One Response to “Lining Up”

  1. Eric Schultz Says:

    About the perspective about time being either a line or a circle, astonomy tends to show us the universe in circular forms (stars, planets, moons, orbital patterns and galaxies themselves), while geology here down on earth tends to show us a purely linear stacking of sedimentary layers of rock over a long period of time. Of course, plate techtonics sometimes bends, folds and even turn those neat horizontal layers of rock up on strange angles, but we won’t go into that here. You are completely right that when someone passes away, it is a very linear thing. The person lived their life, they pass away, and then their lifetme moves away from us in time, just like a car going down that road in the last photo that you put on this post.

    I must say that your photo reminds me somewhat of the roadside cemetary where my grandmother was buried late in 2004, only it was hillier. Her time moves away from us like a boat slowly pulling off from a dock, out into the ocean and over the horizon. Very linear, but the road that leads to her “final resting place” is where they had to cut into some hills, reveailing some of those buckled sedimentary layers which clearly got compressed and deformed over the centuries of time, as the plates of this spherical earth have moved and have pushed up against each other during countless rotations and orbits.

    Anyway, to get away from all that, it must be said that your neighbor Olga must have been a fine person, and it would have been nice to have been able to converse with her. As sad as it is, it is good for young people (such as your son) to experience funerals from time to time. It gives the young some extra perspective as they grow up. Your post was good and thoughtful.

    P.S. I also lean toward the linear pespective, too. As much as my kids and I have liked “The Lion King”, the whole “circular” thing seemed a bit off. As philosophical as that all may seem, Mufasa never did come back.


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