Dry

My attitudes about so many aspects of life have changed during the past few years. Perhaps retirement is responsible. Or maybe it’s a combination of retirement and the fact that I’m more at ease, not having to face the daily onslaught of self-important board members and others who seemed to think they owned my life because they paid for my company’s time. Or perhaps it’s something else. UUVC, maybe. Or the people I’ve met. Or maybe it’s just me, mellowing and realizing and regretting what a bastard I have been my entire life. That is a regret I can never “fix.” I can never undo the past and who I have been.  I would give my life a thousand times over if I could. No one has ever deserved my unmitigated wrath. I misunderstood humanity and human decency for most of my life. Only late in life did I begin to understand how misguided I always have been. And by then it was too late to repair the damage I had done. I will never be able to forgive myself for who I have been the majority of my life. And I shouldn’t. It is said that one must first love oneself before others can love you. I think that is probably true. I remember writing, though I do not recall just when, “love is granted only to the lovable.”

In an ideal world, one can remake oneself into the person he would like to be. Maybe that’s why Arizona is on my mind. More on that and my sinuses and wheezing in a minute. But maybe it’s not sinuses and wheezing. Instead, it might be a more complete revision I’m looking for. Last night, I read about nontheist Quakers. I had never known there was such a branch of Quakers. I admire what seems their devotion to realizing peace, simplicity, integrity, community, equality, love, joy, and social justice. They simply do not believe in the divine, the soul, or the supernatural. I like the idea that people can be fundamentally good without relying on either guidance from or punishment by a vengeful being. That idea suggests people can be fundamentally bad in the absence of the same sorts of influences.

I wish I were gentle and lived among gentle people. Many years ago, when I was still in high school, I remember reading a book of poetry by James Kavanaugh, There Are Men Too Gentle to Live Among Wolves. One of my favorites was the poem of the same name. I found it this morning:

There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who prey upon them with IBM eyes
And sell their hearts and guts for martinis at noon.
There are men too gentle for a savage world
Who dream instead of snow and children and Halloween
And wonder if the leaves will change their color soon.

There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who anoint them for burial with greedy claws
And murder them for a merchant’s profit and gain.
There are men too gentle for a corporate world
Who dream instead of candied apples and ferris wheels
And pause to hear the distant whistle of a train.

There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who devour them with eager appetite and search
For other men to prey upon and suck their childhood dry.
There are men too gentle for an accountant’s world
Who dream instead of Easter eggs and fragrant grass
And search for beauty in the mystery of the sky.

There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who toss them like a lost and wounded dove.
Such gentle men are lonely in a merchant’s world,
Unless they have a gentle one to love.

Kavanaugh wrote something in the introduction of the book, I think, that says something I feel but cannot express any better:

Our sadness is as much a part of our lives as is our laughter. To share our sadness with one we love is perhaps as great a joy as we can know—unless it be to share our laughter.

+++

For my entire life, I have been nearly certain that the concept of God is a human invention. I remain close to certain now, but for some time I have accepted the possibility that some force or being or massively-powerful “idea” exists beyond my comprehension. Whatever is or is not controlling existence, I will never understand its existence, but I will be equally as devoid of understanding its absence. That doesn’t make sense the way I’ve written it, nor in the way I conceive of the idea; but I understand what I believe or intuit or otherwise “feel.”

There have been times I desperately wished for a supreme being that could repair planet Earth and all its inhabitants. Those times usually came after I had given up on humanity as unredeemable. But I’ve never actually believed in redemption, either. My beliefs have always been the unremarkable “what is, is.” That sounds so mundane and unimpressed. But I am mightily impressed with all of “creation.” Call it what you will. Evolution. Existence. Whatever “it” is, it’s impressive. Seeing an electron microscopic image of a dust mite and learning that its “nose” is only 100 microns wide is stunning. But noticing that, next to the “nose” are several dozen tiny “hairs,” each a tiny fraction the size of the nose, is even more astonishing. Compare those tiny creatures with enormous whales. The magnitudes of difference between them are so immeasurably huge that I cannot full grasp the idea of anything.

These are subjects I sometimes want to talk about with someone close to me. People who would willingly spend time discussing ideas beyond our ability to prove or disprove. People who often look at the world with the same sense of stunned awe that I do, completely confounded by how a universe so grandly, yet so minutely, complex can possibly exist. Maybe, though, such conversations lead to “answers” in the form of religion. Maybe, when we confront ideas too convoluted to understand, we turn to mysticism. And perhaps mysticism is just as logical and meaningful as anything else in which we might immerse ourselves.

+++

Wheezing—making whistling noises when breathing—is becoming more and more troublesome of late. While my respiratory issues related to my lung cancer, its treatments, and its underlying causes may be the prime culprits, I think I have allergies of some kind. Not serious stuff, but sufficiently troublesome that my airways get tightened, blocked, or inflamed as a result of them. And those symptoms lead to the wheezing. As strange as it may be, I think I first noticed my wheezing and increased sinus problems when we moved to Arkansas. My sinus issues have gotten worse over the seven years since we relocated.

I have been seen by respiratory professionals, who have prescribed various remedies, including both long term and short term bronchodilators. Nothing has worked. So, I may try an experiment within the next few months. Or I may not. It depends on my level of courage and/or commitment. What I may do is to move, temporarily, to a place where forest pollen and common molds and the like are rare. A location in Arizona, for example. I think a test period of two or three months should give me a pretty good idea of whether the atmosphere here is to blame and/or the atmosphere there offers a solution.

But will I actually do this? Despite my desire for solitude, isolation, and time for and by myself, I am quick to get lonely. No matter than I crave the quiet serenity of being alone, more frequently than I admit I want and maybe need company. I had in mind that a dog was going to fix that. But the responsibilities of animal care and the disruptions to my routine that came with it forced me to face reality. I like Bob, the dog. I really like him. He is a sweet creature. His visible joy when I return home from being out is uplifting. Having him put his head in my lap while I’m watching television makes me feel loved by a caring companion dog. But the arguments against keeping him won out; he’s leaving me on Wednesday. The fact that last night he again attempted to get in bed with me and this morning I found him sleeping on the white leather sofa he was specifically told to keep off makes parting a little easier.

So, the question is whether the additional solitude of moving, even temporarily, to a place I know no one would be too much. Would my loneliness intensify? Even living here, where I know quite a few people, I do not see many of them often. Most days, I see just one or two people. I talk to just one most days. I crave isolation, but isolation is hard to take. I guess what I crave is the kind of isolation I had when my wife was here. She and I spent hours and hours apart most days, but we were there for one another in an instant. I felt her presence. I got so used to it that I did not realize just how incredibly important her presence in my isolation was to me, I guess.

I am an adult. I know  how to cope with the vagaries of life. Whether I get lonely or not, I should be able to wade through a test run. As an adult, though, I should be able to differentiate between wanting to test a new environment for health reasons and wanting to try to build a new life as a different person. The fact that I’m acknowledging the possibility floods me with memories of questions I’ve asked myself for years. The one question I’ve never successfully answered is: Who am I? Will Arizona answer it for me? But if Arizona were to fix my wheezing and leave my question unanswered, what then? Yeah. Exactly.

But, wait. This is absurd. I’ve been mulling over going to the Canadian Maritime Provinces. I’ve considered a trip to Mexico. I’ve thought about moving to the Pacific Northwest. What, exactly, is wrong with me? Why am I being so utterly scattered in my thinking?

+++

I bought a dryer online today. It should be delivered and the old dead one hauled away on March 29; parts required for installation should come April 3. Until then, I will wear either dirty or wet clothes. Or I’ll impose upon my sister-in-law to let me use her dryer. As I contemplate a temporary move, I ask myself what the hell am I doing buying new appliances?

+++

I have worn myself out. Turned myself into a piece of dry, dusty leather so weak it cannot hold itself in one piece any longer. I did this not through hard, manual labor but by wringing all the moisture from my brain—by forcing myself to think instead of letting thought come naturally to me. Water. Soon, we all will value water more highly than anything else. We will wish we had saved it, stored it, conserved it, treated it like the life-saving liquid it is.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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2 Responses to Dry

  1. Thanks, David, for the comment and the reminder of John Prine’s observations. And your observation (or your friend’s) that “people do not LEAVE something so much as GO TO something.” That’s worth thinking about and exploring.

  2. davidlegan says:

    Good read. Lots to think about, here. Years ago, while talking about a friend whose wife had just left him for reasons unknown, my friend Jeff said, “People do not LEAVE something so much as GO TO something.” That’s all I have to say about Arizona (as Forest Gump might say.)

    About the existential observations, I can only quote John Prine (RIP.)

    Dear Abby, dear Abby
    My fountain pen leaks
    My wife hollers at me and my kids are all freaks
    Every side I get up on is the wrong side of bed
    If it weren’t so expensive I’d wish I were dead
    Signed, Unhappy

    Unhappy, unhappy
    You have no complaint
    You are what your are and you ain’t what you ain’t
    So listen up buster, and listen up good
    Stop wishing for bad luck and knocking on wood

    Every verse, same chorus.

    So, there you have it. Swinburn agreeing with Prine. Whatever is, is.

Please talk to me about what I've written. I get lonely when I'm the only one saying anything.

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