Monday, August 27, 2007

The Hermeneutic Spiral: Start of Another Year in Scotland

Entry for 26 August 2007 (en route to Scotland):

We are becoming experts at leaving Ohio: Last year at this time, we were sprinting toward our department for Scotland, exhausted and overwhelmed by the work of tying up enough loose ends that our new life wouldn’t become totally unraveled before we could get our bearings. I had spent 4 weeks nonstop clearing out my lab and office at the University of Toledo; we had divided all of our possessions into 3 categories: leave in Toledo; take to Scotland; or Throw Away; the movers had come and gone with the Scotland part of the triage; we had made new wills and powers of attorney for various people who would act on our behalf during our absence; and we had deposited our youngest child at University. In the end, we left things in rather a mess, and Linda, the friend who is house sitting for us got stuck cleaning up after us. It took us two more trips back to Ohio to sort our house there out.

Now we are actually getting good at this, and were packed and ready to go the night before, early enough even to get a decent night’s sleep. This year, we had once again to take Kenneth back to university a couple days before we left for Scotland, and once again he was very glad to be on his own again, after a long summer with his parents. But this time, we all knew the drill, and the packing and leave-taking process went more smoothly and with much less stress, and Kenneth was looking forward to living with a suite of like minded friends. We left him yesterday afternoon minding the CWRU Go Club table at the student activities fair. After lunch with Brendan and Mayumi at their apartment nearby to Kenneth’s dorm, we left Cleveland, confident that our children and daughter-in-law will have a good year and will be there as a small support net for each other. On the way back to Toledo, we were repeatedly buffeted by a series of intense but brief thunderstorms, a consistent sign of summer in Ohio. Compared to these, the slow Scottish smirr is gentle and comforting.

So we complete the circle of a year, returning to the place where we began our Scottish Adventure one year ago (to paraphrase T.S. Eliot), to find that we know it for the first time: We now know what a year in Scotland looks, sounds, smells and feels like; we know the rhythms of daily, weekly and now yearly life. I know what my job is, something about which I had very little clue last year; I know that I can do it. That is, most of it, most of the time; to do all of it, all of the time, is clearly impossible!

So we depart, and commence another turning of what feels like a circle, except that it is really a spiral, maybe the kind of folded spiral that is the seven-circuit Cretan Labyrinth. Of course, to say that we start another turning of the spiral doesn’t tell whether this path we are travelling is spiraling up, as though we were ascending Glastonbury Tor (whose main path traces the pattern of the Cretan Labyrinth); or whether our way is spiraling downward (as if descending into the pit Dantean Hell (with its 9 circles of everlasting torment, something like my experience during my last several years in my previous job). And we do not always know either whether our journey spirals inward toward the core or centre of our life’s meaning while temporarily separating us from our ordinary external concerns (like going into the Labyrinth as a walking meditation or symbolic pilgrimage); or whether our way takes us out from the Labyrinth, away from the centre and back into the life of external connections and involvements (like when I went away to university expecting a contemplative existence and instead found myself plunged into a whole new world of relationships).

So here we are, entering the next circuit of the spiral: another year in our hermeneutic circle (which is actually a spiral), and we will have to see where it takes us: up or down; inward or outward. We will just have to see…

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