One recent morning as I walked 26 blocks through New York City, Joni Mitchell’s song, The Circle Game, played around and around in my brain. I felt sad because now that my mother is dead, there’s no one to be impressed with how good I am at navigating Manhattan. And she would have admired me despite the fact that while I was walking, I got confused and, after walking in what seemed like circles, had to call my son in Belize to give me directions (He is very patient about this task because, as he declared early on, “Mom is dismaptional.”)
When I got married many years ago, I didn’t much think about how lives overlap, how what lies ahead circles back to what went before. I had some vague ideas–mostly scenes of happy children, cozy houses and tropical vacations—and I wonder now how I could have been so clueless. My fantasy of family life didn’t take into account our kids’ teenage years or our own mortality, not to mention losing old friends and making new ones, multiple moves, and death of a parent—in other words, the gains and losses of normal life.
My favorite lyric of The Circle Game is the chorus: “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 in the circle game.” On the jazz album, Sitting in Limbo, Jessica Molaskey sings that song in a duet with her husband, John Pizzarelli who blends it with Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “The Waters of March.” Jobim’s song is a chronicle of sensations, objects and events that comprise a life: “The plan of the house, the body in bed, and the car that got stuck—it’s the mud, it’s the mud.”
The two songs in combination summarize my view of life these days. It IS a circle. The children we led around help us with directions while we help our aging parents as if they were our children. At its end, Jobim’s song circles around to a hopeful conclusion, fitting after this long winter: “and the riverbank talks of the Waters of March, it’s the promise of spring, it’s the joy in your heart.”
The Circle Game, Copyright 1970, Warner Brothers Records
The Waters of March,Copyright 1972, Antonio Carlos Jobim
Photo by William C. Popik, MD