A case for walking in circles

Destinations are overrated

I’ve been busy. Busy working, busy writing, busy traveling. The days at home seem empty but get filled with busyness. I own a business, which is just what happens when busyness turns from “Y?” to “I.” “Why” be busy? Because it’s what “I” do. Busy trying to stuff this life full of life.

Which is why I love airports. Full of life, but life removed. Life waiting. It’s the waiting part I love best. Sitting in a portal where you have nothing to do but fill time. 

Last Sunday I had two hours of nothingness at the Santa Fe airport. I’d arrived two hours before Seth for our five-year-anniversary adventure. I could have gone into town, checked in, taken a nap. Instead I waited. It’s a dollhouse-sized airport. A tiny adobe thing with no gates, ten seats, and a refrigerator of snacks with an honor system bill jar. So I couldn’t wait inside, nor did I want to. There was clean New Mexican air out there! Instead I walked around the parking lot. Then I got to the edge of the parking lot and kept walking. Then two cars, one after the other, pulled over to ask if I needed a ride. I said “no thank you” each time, and went back to the parking lot, where no one could bestow their grace upon me, where I could proceed to walk in circles. 

It was the day after a loud weekend and I was ready for quiet. The quiet of boots on gravel. The wind that got chopped up by mountains. There really was a single tumbleweed, blowing back and forth, just like in the movies. New Mexico. And a free-flowing quiet in the mind. I walked past the same set of cars, the same set of cones. At one point I switched directions to see how they would change from behind. They didn’t. The only thing that changed was the number of circles completed and the minute hand on my watch.

Then Seth was there and we walked and walked. We walked along a dry riverbed. We found a park. There we found the labyrinth. 

The labyrinth was not meant to confuse or mislead. There was one path, from the outside to the center. The center was visible. Everything was visible. There were no walls, only small mounds of dirt on either side of the path, the one single path that led you from the outside in. Consider your biggest question, the sign said, then clear away your thoughtsBy the time you reach the center, you will have the answer. 

We were in Santa Fe and ready for some woo-woo. So we took a deep breath and hopped aboard the labyrinth. 

The path curved and curved back. We walked in a circle and a circle again. It doubled back and forth. We looked at our feet. We looked at the path. We forgot about the river. We forgot about our Big Question. By the time we reached the center, there was a shift. Maybe it was the sleep-deprivation fumes, the high-altitude air. But it felt like we’d climbed to the top of the mountain. 

Then we walked out again and what had even happened? I don’t know. We walked in circles and that was important. Our minds a little quieter, we walked into downtown Santa Fe. There, at the cathedral on the plaza, was yet another labyrinth. 

This was made of pink stone and had no barriers, only stepping stones that led to each other. Under the eyes of statue-saints, we ran through the labyrinth this time, gasping for breath in the seven-thousand-foot air. 

There are 30 labyrinths in Santa Fe. People have been walking labyrinths for thousands of years. A labyrinth is not a maze. This is an important distinction. A maze is meant to be solved. In a maze, you can fail. A labyrinth has one passage. When you look at it all at once, it’s impossible to figure out the way out. All you need to do is find the beginning, then pay attention to the next footstep.

I didn’t know there was a world of labyrinths out there, people begging people to walk in circles and think of nothing. That’s all I want to do. To walk with purpose, as if I have somewhere to go, when my only destination is the next step I take.


PS: New story publication alert! This is a short mystery-esque story about mermaids, myths, and offshore wind, featured in a beautiful edition of Jabberwock Review. It’s called Dear Mermaid, Dead Mermaid.

Read “Dear Mermaid, Dead Mermaid”

PPS: Cats appreciate walking in circles, sleeping in circles.

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