Or Is All My Life a Circle?

One of my favorite songs from childhood is Harry Chapin’s “All My Life’s a Circle.” With just a few simple words, he persuasively argues that life is circular, not linear at all.

It’s poignant to watch a video of his performing this song; when he sings that, so far, there’ve been no dead ends in his life, he delivers the line ebulliently. He died that very year at 38.

I remember that vividly. I was at summer camp in Maine, and everyone was eating in the dining hall. When we got the word (did someone make an announcement?), the counselor sitting next to me put her face in her hands and began sobbing. I was nearly 13, and it was the first time I’d seen an adult cry. I didn’t know it was possible! I thought it was something people outgrew, so her tears were more of a jolt than Chapin’s death.

Anyway, the following word is fun and not at all existential, but you could take it on a philosophical level if you like, thinking of this amusement park ride as a way to survey your circular life:

覧車 (kanransha: ferris wheel)
     to view + to look over (a wide area) + car

Together, the first two kanji mean “viewing.” A “viewing car” isn’t a tourist bus, as I might have guessed, but a ferris wheel! I never think of ferris wheels as great places for views, but indeed they can be. When I went to Avignon, France, I asked the hotel receptionist where to get the best view of the city. She directed me to the ferris wheel! A brilliant and original idea!

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