It’s unnatural to leave a circle, to disrupt the seamless connection of meeting ends, to break away in a crooked line shooting off in another direction. If this were natural, our most fundamentally important geometric shape would resemble something like a sun drawn by a 5-year-old in a rendering of a landscape: a squashed oval with jagged rays protruding in every which way. But a circle is a circle is a circle – perfect, whole, complete. Like the moon, our eyes, a wheel, a crown, wedding rings, even the click wheel on an iPod, or perhaps an orange. So many vital, core things in the human world are circular (or spherical, if we want to get technical), and they remain that way because it makes the most sense.
I believe this is the reason that many people struggle with the traffic circle in the quaint downtown where I attended college. Visitors navigating the roundabout for the first time often become confused and frustrated when trying to figure out how, when and where to turn off (though there are only four options). Once you push your car into the oncoming traffic swinging around the loop and speed up to join the rushing, honking drivers, all while watching for pedestrians, it’s difficult to take a sharp right and break from it. The momentum continues pushing you around and around until you lose vision of your turn-off, your destination.
I realized this is also the way I went through my time spent in college and Southern California. I got in and started cruising the loop at top speed, ignoring the reality that college is, in fact, a terminal arrangement until they were forcing the diploma into my tightly closed fist. I wanted to scream at them to keep it, that I was staying, that nobody could make me do the things I’m destined to do, to branch out in life and use all the things I learned to enrich my existence and even the world around me. No! The child in me wanted to hang around drawing jagged yellow suns in coloring books and pretend there was nothing else in life worth doing.
But I accepted the diploma, spent a couple extra months in town trying to say some goodbyes, and I left. I left the home I made for myself and all the people I have come to love. On the evening of my first day of college, I grabbed a person I had just met and we walked down the street to sit on the benches in the middle of this traffic circle (ironically called Plaza Square). We watched the colorful fountain and learned about each other. I have since spent many hours in that circle – with that same person, with others, and often alone – observing the quiet rushing movements of life around me and listening to the changes occurring within myself. It became a sort of nucleus for my time spent there, and it was the last place I sat (with the same person who I brought there the first time) in the town that was my home of the last four years. Then I got in my car and found my turn-off.
It’s difficult to remember when rushing through a circle that you can leave it just as easily as you entered it. Turning off is no more complicated or difficult than turning in, it just involves changing your speed in different ways. I drove away from my college life just as plainly as I drove up to it, with a bunch of crap piled in my trunk and a very familiar fear of the unknown weighing on my shoulders. Though the circle may look unchanged and the circumstances seem similar, I can be confident knowing that I took what I needed as I sped through that rotation, and because of that the next circle I come to will be even easier to enter.