Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Caught in the Spiral

I always loved the holidays when I was growing up. Holidays to me were pure fun and I never understood why adults found them so stressful. As I got older, I figured adults must be stressed because they had so much to do, but in the past few years, I discovered another reason why holidays can be hard for people.

I once read a theory that time is not linear - time travels in a spiral. We live on a the cycle of a year, and while we are constantly moving forward, we continue going around in a circle, thus creating a spiral. This means that even as we move forward, we keep ending up in the same places. At any given moment, you're standing parallel to wherever you were on that same date last year, and the year before that, as far back as you can remember.

We probably don't think about this on ordinary days. When it comes to these parallel connections, the repeating rituals seem to have the most power; things like holidays, birthdays, and the school year cycle, can automatically link you to other memories you have of those times. I'm done with school now but I still love summer and cringe at the thought of September. Last year I felt really sick while room draw was going on even though I was a senior and wasn't participating. Holidays can be hard because they are a link to the past. They can remind people of horrible times that they don't want to relive, even if things are much better now. They make losses more salient because you remember being with people you lost at the holidays. Even crossing someone's name off your Christmas card list forces you to think about why you're not that close anymore.

The issue about spiraling is that it is not always a choice. You can decide that you'd like to celebrate your wedding anniversary or do something to remember a loved one who died every year, but what happens when you want to just go forward and the person's death starts haunting you because it's around that time of year? I know a lot of people who have experience this, and it seems like negative, unwanted memories seep in more easily when the anniversary dates roll around. It brings me to the question: is spiraling a good idea? We can always access our memories by choice when we want to; we don't need spiraling for that. What would happen if we stopped?

I understand that the earth revolves around the sun and that we can't control the cycle of the seasons. But why do we have to base our lives on that revolution cycle? What if we had weeks, and only weeks, and we just continued on like that forever. (We don't even have to have weeks - just any short cycle of days that would give us days off). We'd still have vacation time, but it would just be a pattern, like one week off every four weeks, or something like that. There would be really long vacations too, but they wouldn't be linked to the summer or holidays - there would just be a pattern that we would have those long vacations after a certain number of days.

I understand that this would still be a cycle and that the week itself is a cycle, but it's a smaller cycle. The smaller the spiral is, the closer it is to just being linear. If something horrible happened on a Tuesday, it's unlikely that you would relive it every Tuesday of your life because there are so many Tuesdays that it's not really significant what day of the week the horrible event happened. With a smaller spiral, we wouldn't have those force links to the past that come from linking an event to a time of year. People would have their own rituals like, "every five weeks we'll have a special date to celebrate our marriage," but it would be everyone's choice. We would always have access to our memories, but we would really feel as far away from things as we are, and it would be easier to keep that distance if we wanted to. Maybe then, time would feel linear and no one would get caught in the spiral.

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