For my birthday, I got a bowl of cereal brought to me in my bed by my boys: Grape Nuts topped off creatively with M&M’s and whipped cream. Then I came to Best Buy to wait in line for two hours before opening to see if I could get this cool video game, the Wii. I’m 25th in line, talking to my fellow line-waiters about Guitar Hero, the Wii, and the spirit of Christmas. I like being in line in many ways — it makes me feel like a part of humanity, or at least the poor souls who make a promise to get the kids something and now they’ve got to pay the piper.

My family is so loving that I simply sometimes can’t fathom harming them with my GID. I’m really caught in a mental bind: take action and transition, alleviating my pain while running the risk of hurting my family, or protect my family and rot away in pain. Am I missing something shades of gray in this dilemma?

I’m standing outside an electronics store, in swirling leaves and an increasing west, cold, wind, wearing gloves and a stocking cap on my birthday for my kids. Would I save them the pain of GID with a similar feat of love and stamina? If I can stand outside in the cold for them, can’t I bury my GID feelings? Yes, of course I could (and I would), but I think there’s a difference in a finite quest, however difficult it may be, and a condition with no end.

The leaves blow in irregular clumps across the parking lot in eddies and blobs, violent and streaking, coming to rest against the south wall of the store where the other parents and I wait to get in, maybe one of the lucky 25. I think of Dante’s imagery of the souls being whirled around in the second circle of hell as I watch these leaves form vortices and then roll, dust-devil-like down the row of waiting parents. Patterns in the randomness make it so easy to visualize the current of air — a cone, a sphere, a wall of power. Where are the leaves of my life, arranging themselves so as to make the hidden visible and thus reveal bigger meaning? They must be all around — a bowl of breakfast in bed, brought lovingly and admiringly by my sons; an encouraging touch from my wife when it’s clear I’m wavering; kind words and glances from friends; one student who says I have been important to her; even glimpses of poetry like the one I have as I write these lines. Each individual leaf has a magical beauty and pattern of its own — veins, color, texture, shape, each one a testament to the cycles of nature, having been green and productive during the summer, nourishing the tree and giving shade to hot and weary travelers, soon to be the mulch of next year’s grass and trees. But the leaves also have no individuality when you pull back to see the patterns — like the saying about not seeing the forest for the trees. How should we see these leaves, these patterns? The only thing I can think of is to make sure we see both — to see the details of our lifeworld and also to pull back and see the vista and scope of all of these details put together in a collage. Academically, we want to see the data without bias AND to put those data into the broader context of theory, history, or culture.

Pattern and structure telescopes from the smallest observable detail to macro levels of meaning. To obsess on one detail is to miss the other patterns, to be blinded to the epiphany that reveals what’s normally hidden.

A burnt hair follicle, an article of clothing, a fleck of mascara, a hormone molecule, a piece of jewelry, an isolated thought, a visit to a therapist, an email message — biological, social, linguistic particles swirling around larger meaning.

Tossing a football to kids making up a new game on their trampoline, eating M&M Grape Nuts brought to me for breakfast in bed on birthday, hugging my wife and kids extra long and extra firm, discussing a topic we saw on TV — the mundane threads in a family’s fabric.

The hardest patterns for me are family systems, to trace the threads of my father’s childhood through my childhood through my own children’s childhoods. To begin to remember thoughts and feelings from long ago and to try to establish cause and effect with the me now. Individual events, none of them terribly traumatic, I suppose, but separately constituting a picture, a personality.

If I’m the whirlwind, what individual leaves reveal my nature?