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Integr Med (Encinitas). 2016 April; 15(2): 64.
PMCID: PMC4898284

The Circle Game

Bill Benda, MD, Associate Editor
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You know those Christmas letters we get from one or two old friends each year? The ones that say, “… and Trevor and Bailey both made the collegiate all-star tennis team but had to decline to devote time for the upcoming Winter Olympics, and Bridgette’s and my recent trip to the moon has given us pause as to the inconsequentiality of man.” Those really irritate me. Because inevitably 2 questions come to mind. First, do these people ever work? And second, why didn’t my life turn out that way?

But as I currently have a severe case of writer’s block and am far over deadline, I am compelled to write you my own little Christmas letter in lieu of an actual editorial, as it is the only thing I find available for commentary. My apologies in advance.

A couple of very unexpected things have transpired in the past few months, both geographically and professionally. After 20 years living with only Labrador retrievers on a mountaintop in Big Sur, California, I have relocated back to my place of birth and childhood, the southeast coast of Florida, although I’ve sworn many an oath that I never would. Apparently the years could not cleanse the salty warm water from my veins, and I had absorbed enough of the quietude of the redwoods to buffer me from the bombardment of returning to society’s reality.

But, as they say, enough about me—let’s talk about my work. I have also left clinical practice to reenter academia, having been invited as faculty in a brand new emergency medicine residency program at a brand new medical school at Florida Atlantic University. What makes this interesting enough (I hope) to share with you is that in both realms I have, after 40 years of a meandering medical career, found myself at the place of both my literal and professional birth.

I mean, what the heck? Aren’t we supposed to move forward and upward in this life, like Bridgette and Barkley? Kids, jobs, homes, vacations, retirement? Stumbles along the way, of course, but generally a steady progress until we can pause and look back at a life well lived?

From my experience, no. Pretty much everything I have witnessed, and experienced, during the interval of life has been circular rather than linear. The elderly parent (or patient) becomes as helpless and free of rational thoughts as an infant. A person falling in love instantly drops the security of cynicism and allows the throb of adolescence. Our personal relationship to the inconceivability of Spirit becomes as it was before we were taught how it should, and shouldn’t, be. The Earth eventually, patiently, reestablishes herself after the virus of humankind runs its course (at last, a little integrative medicine).

This cyclical nature of life does not mean we are without choice as to the level each cycle ends and then begins anew. My profession of allopathic medicine is in the midst of meltdown and must soon choose between becoming a smaller and smaller cog in the industrial wheel or refocus on the principles of our oath. Politically, our country is at a crisis and entering either a revolutionary or civil social war. The immensity of where we are in our history is staggering, and I do not know whether to be an optimist who believes everyone is doing the best they can, or a pessimist who is fearful this is true. But the cool part is I now get to figure it out on a new playing field.

So I am back in the maternal Atlantic, and paternal to fresh medical students and residents, and suffering from writer’s block. There you go. I’ll end by pointing out to readers who haven’t noticed (and perhaps my editorial staff) that I usually entitle these pieces with a song from way back. This one is Joni Mitchell’s, and I encourage you to dig it up on the Internet:

And the seasons, they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on this carousel of time
We can’t return, we can only look
Behind from where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game . . .


Articles from Integrative Medicine: A Clinician's Journal are provided here courtesy of InnoVision Media