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Spiraling Down, Spiraling In, Spiraling Out

The Sun, Moana, the Greeks, the Celts, and me.

Plant spiral, photo by Bogomil Mihaylov on Unsplash

The sun inset with a spiral floated on the banner behind the altar in front of the sanctuary of the United Church of Christ. I was struck by the spiritual image, as I had just watched Moana from Disney. I needed to converse as an informed person with my granddaughter about her latest fascination. Moana is filled with the symbol of the spiral in a stylized yin-yang pattern.

Later, a woman commented on the spiral pattern in my jacket, which I matched to spiral earrings I got in Greece. The spiral seemed to be a symbol that needed my attention.

Spirals have been potent symbols across cultures and time.

The spiral of a conch shell can be a female symbol of the inward journey, the womb-ness of a woman. Spirals are found in nature — the shell, the fiddlehead fern, the galaxy, the tornado. Spirals are also part of ancient decorative motifs, from the Greeks and the Vikings to the Celts.

The Celts’ three-spiral motif is the Triskelion.

It can be birth-death-rebirth or many different representations, according to lore. It is the holy three, a trinity, merging one into the other.

Spirals and vortexes can also be about the descent. We think of tornadoes, and hurricanes as destructive vortices. We talk about someone “spiraling down” the path of addiction or dysfunction, reinforcement cycles of poor behavior, and consequences.

Spirals are found in the patterns of the labyrinth, a contemplative walking path. The walker stops along the way for meditation or prayer. We go inward, and then we go outward, out into the world.

labyrinth by Altaf Shah on Pexels

Aging is a spiral, too.

It really isn’t a linear path, though it’s easy to think of a straight timeline, the famous dash between the date of birth and the date of death.

I find that I go inward to times long ago, or recent, and there really is no difference in memory time. Memories of marching in a parade in second grade, waving little American flags merge with the homecoming parade in high school or the marching in aquatic exercises yesterday.

I have days when I need to be quiet, and contemplative, on my couch or patio, and days of speaking behind a lectern to an audience. There are good days and bad days and days of “this too shall pass.”

Frank Lloyd Wright famously used simple geometric shapes in his architecture, and his motifs were repeated in large and small ways to create a sense of unity and serenity. He might repeat a particular angle in all the woodwork and in the floorboards and in the furniture.

He was fascinated by the spiral and used it most famously at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. We walk up and down its famous curved gallery to view the art in front of us, below us, above us.

Perhaps that is why aging is better understood as a spiral.

We can see what is directly in front of us, what is behind us, and what is ahead. We know that what is past is what is future, in a constricted or expanded way.

We take a flat, rectangular surface, roll it up into Grandma’s cinnamon buns, and create a circle from a flat surface. We take our lives and transform them, from the cupboard shelf to the warmth, aromatic goodness, and oven-fresh moments.

After all, our universe is a galaxy spiral, too.

The largest entities I can imagine spiral out with us contained on a small planet circling a star in the universe’s sky. We are reflected in the spiral of our DNA, the tiny finite becoming the generational grand mix.

Oh, and Moana?

The girl is the hero of her own journey. She is not passively awakened by a kiss, or waiting for her prince to come. She spirals, out of her own world, and comes back to the celebration of men and women in her community. And she listens to the pink conch shell and then places it atop a cairn, a tower of flat rocks marking monument, memorial, and direction.

Moana is a new role model for the next generation, my granddaughter’s time.

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