Butterfly Specialists

The sellers responded favorably to our list of necessary repairs; they agree to have the repairs (all relatively minor) made in advance of closing, which is now scheduled for the ends of this month. Oh, did I mention we’re buying a house? Yes, it is true. We are buying a house. That means, of course, I’ll be selling the house in which we now live. We’re trading an open floor plan for one that’s more “old fashioned” and traditional. But the new house is hidden at the end of a cul-de-sac, deep in the woods; the nearest neighbor (who rarely stays in the house, we’re told) is at the end of the street. And our new place has a fire pit where, I can imagine, we will sit with friends and enjoy evenings of solitude and quiet. We probably won’t be in the new house until after the middle of December; we gave the sellers fourteen days after closing to move out. Ah, another major adjustment in my life.

Within the past year, my life has changed dramatically and experienced weird changes: my wife of almost forty-one years died; I entered into a new romantic relationship; my new romantic partner sold her house and moved in with me; I’m in the midst of buying another house; I’m about to put my current home on the market; and I had a bizarre experience with kidney stones (and the physical and mental aftermath of treatment to remove them). There’s probably more, with my mind blocking them this morning as a protective mechanism. I’ve read many times over the years how major stress—both positive and negative—can lead to health crises. I hope that is not true of me in my current swirl of life upheavals. On one hand, I say I do not feel like I’m under stress. On the other, I actually feel like I’m walking across a wide, deep canyon—balancing on a rapidly-warming tight-rope woven of microscopically-thin crystals of fragile hoarfrost. At any moment, the stress could evaporate or the rope could break.

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Last night, I thought long and hard about talking to someone about what is going through my mind—the complex mix of joy and fear and happiness and overwhelming sadness and a thousand other emotions that sometimes seem to have me in a grip so tight I can’t breathe. A disinterested third party, trained to help people wade through emotional crises, might be an invaluable listener. But I am not especially comfortable with the idea of sharing my deepest thoughts with a stranger who, when all is said and done, doesn’t really care about me in the least. Sharing my emotions with someone who might as well be a paid gunslinger doesn’t appeal to me. Yet the idea of burdening a friend by unloading those same thoughts seems terribly unfair. And doing that could dramatically change the character of a friendship; it could evolve into something cold and rational, quite different from what friendship is meant to be.

Maybe my dream last night (or was it this morning?) was the outgrowth of these thoughts. I was sitting with my friend on the tailgate of  her old Ford pickup truck (which she does not own, as far as I know). The truck was parked in the driveway of my new house and we were seated so that we faced the fire pit, maybe sixty feet away. The pit glowed red and orange, but I could not see any flames. My friend said something like “you have to let yourself feel whatever it is you feel.” I responded with “That’s not the problem. It’s not giving myself enough permission; it’s that I give myself too much permission.”  The conversation went on with what seemed like gibberish. At some point, I realized I was alone on the tailgate, which had somehow transformed into the back of my car, with the liftgate raised.  In my hand, I held what looked like a high school photo of my friend and a tiny glass of grapefruit-flavored vodka. I have no idea how I knew/know it was grapefruit-flavored vodka; I just did. In the last scene of the dream that I remember, I was standing on the back of my car, holding one end of a string of lights above my head; the other end was attached to a pole in the center of the fire pit. There were no other cars or people around, but I somehow knew that there had been many cars just a few minutes earlier; but they were all gone.

Yep, my dream must have arisen from my thoughts. It only goes to show that dreams can be triggered by something, yet evolve into something else completely nonsensical.

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I was up before 5 again this morning, which I think must mean I am settling in again to my old sleep habits. But I have noticed, too, that I get incredibly tired during the day; so tired that I cannot keep my eyes open. Never one to nap, I have begun taking short (and long) naps in recent months. Napping interferes with my day in troubling ways. I feel like I’m missing something important while I sleep, but I cannot help myself. My eyelids get so heavy I cannot keep them open. There was a time when I regularly went to bed early, slept all night long, and woke up just before 7. That was a time when I got far more sleep than I needed, but I felt better when I woke than I expected. Odd. What is “normal” in one’s own sleep patterns, especially when they change so much from day to day, week to week, month to month, and year to year?

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It is just shy of eleven months since my wife died. Whenever I think of that, my emotions go haywire. I can’t seem to keep myself together. And I know it will be even worse a month and a few days from now, on the one year anniversary of her death. I still feel like I could have done more to advocate for her; that I could have changed the course of her deteriorating health if I had only been more aggressive with the automatons who ostensibly looked out after her while she was in the hospital and rehab facilities. People say I did all I could do. They may believe that or they may assume it to be true or they may say it just to sooth my ragged emotions. In hindsight, I do not believe I did enough. I do not think I was anything like as insistent as I should have been that her doctors treat her more aggressively. But the fact is that, whether I could or could not have done more, there’s nothing more I can do now. History is history; facts are facts. There’s nothing that can be done now. That fact is clear to me, but I can’t help but feel the most overwhelming sense of guilt. And I feel rage against myself for being too weak to sufficiently advocate on her behalf. Some days I want nothing more than to snap my own neck in payment for my inadequacy. But eventually I come around. I never feel really “good” about my responses to my wife’s illness and treatment, but usually I can handle it. Sometimes, though, I question whether I can and whether I should. It’s a little like circumstances when I have to make a decision, but any decision I make is either too close in quality to another or is not good enough to warrant being made. So I feel frozen; like I cannot make a decision because it will inevitably be the wrong one.

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When I come back to this post a month or a year or five years from now, it will trigger feelings of sadness and anger. I know that, even as I write it. So, why don’t I write something that will instead spark feelings of happiness and gentle joy? Because that’s not how the mind works. The mind does not allow one to pick and choose one’s emotions. Maybe to some extent. But not completely. The power of positive thinking is not an overwhelming power. It is simply a way to trick oneself into believing in magic. And it’s not a good enough trick to convince oneself that the magic is real, when circumstances say otherwise.

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Life would be so much simpler, I think, if we could answer only to our own sense of morality, leaving social mores to wither. But we can’t do that. Morality as defined by the society in which we live grabs us by the neck and drags us through life, forcing us to behave in ways that may be completely foreign to the way we think and feel. Morality. Where the hell does morality come from? Is it fundamental to human behavior? Or do we, as humans, create it to control the baser elements of our behaviors? I would bet on the latter. Knowing how we’d behave without the limits placed on us by society at large, we create and/or subscribe to rules of morality. We police our thoughts and our actions by agreeing to abide by rules crafted by people who lived in entirely different times and circumstances. Morality, then, is situational. And it ethics rely on morality as their anchor, so, too, are ethics situational. God, that argument could go on for years. In fact, I think it has.

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I saw a butterfly yesterday; first one in many weeks. I wonder: was it the last remaining butterfly before the brutality of winter sets in, or was it an early scout, looking for environments suited to flocks or rabbles or flutters or flights of butterflies? Hard to say. I’d have to consult with a linguistically-inclined lepidopterist.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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Please talk to me about what I've written. I get lonely when I'm the only one saying anything.

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