In Bondage to the Unknown

We tend to gravitate toward what we believe with absolute certainty and toward the absolute unknown. Don’t we? We have a strange bondage to the unknown that parallels our comfort with what we think we know (but often don’t). I could go on about that, but I won’t.

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I had a very nice afternoon yesterday with two friends. We ate at a Vietnamese restaurant, followed by dessert at a bakery. Though the food was good, the conversation was by far the most enjoyable aspect of the afternoon. Exploring ideas by way of discussion is a gratifying way to spend time. Conversation generates feelings of both intellectual and emotional satisfaction. One of the topics of conversation, which I raised, dealt with the reticence of males to engage in conversation on topics that have even the potential of broaching matters of emotion. One of my friends said men are trained from an early age to bottle up their emotions and to be embarrassed by the revelation of emotional matters. While that is no doubt true, I think another part may be that men are afraid of emotions, so they tend to readily agree to “training” that will remove emotions from their behavioral repertoires. Who knows? It’s just supposition. Theories without the benefit of facts.

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Hysteria and paranoia seem to be washing over the land. Fear of abortions, voting rights, “foreigners,” religious debate, and a host of other issues are causing madness on a grand scale. The sources of those fears are hard to identify, must less amputate. But we must. If we are to survive as an “intelligent” part of the environment.

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The later it gets in one’s life, grasping and holding onto precious moments becomes more and more important. Spending time away from loved ones becomes dangerous; a frivolity with potentially devastating consequences. Every moment counts because the number and length of those moments diminishes with each minute that disappears from the clock. The recognition of how precious those moments are can cause a person to become cloying and possessive. But failing to recognize the gravity of being apart, or failing to act on that recognition, risks emotional pain of a magnitude humans cannot experience without severe psychological trauma. There is no happy medium between intimacy and separation. Both are at one vital and deadly.

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Even in the midst of extraordinary happiness, my mood can swing wildly between elation and dejection. My self-confidence can rocket to the top of the scale one moment, then plummet to the cellar the next. I can feel pride in my achievements or the accolades given to me and, then, suddenly find myself believing I do not deserve the rewards and acknowledgement that accompany achievement. That sense of feeling like a fraud is sometimes called imposter syndrome. But, even though I know the terminology and have some sense of the etiology, it seems real and rational and embarrassing. Ach! Get over it, John.

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A few short weeks ago, after literally months of contemplating what I wanted to do with myself, I was about to make up my mind. I was close to a decision that—as I see it—would have resulted in closing a seven-year chapter of my life. I had just about decided I should sell my house, put some of my belongings in storage, and sell everything else. In spite of reservations about leaving people I consider friends, those relationships simply were not sufficient to keep me here after a devastating year of COVID-19 and the illness and death of my wife. My relationships here were enjoyable and fun and fulfilling in many ways, but there was nothing strong enough to tie me to this place. I had almost decided to move on. I was ready to look for a place or a path that might anchor me to a future I could not quite imagine.

My almost-decision is no longer a valid option. A relationship that seemed to come out of nowhere changed that. In hindsight, though, I realize the relationship did not suddenly spring into being. It emerged from a simmering blend of compassion and engagement and appreciation and tenderness, all beneath a veil of soft affection. The foundation of the relationship, now seen in hindsight, had the characteristics of an iceberg; big and powerful beneath the surface, but with scant visible elements. Those enormous subsurface components, seemingly invisible until recently, have rendered pointless my pending decision to move. They have become an anchor far stronger than any I might have stumbled on  had I decided to hit the road.

As I contemplate what has happened in the last few weeks, something occurs to me.  The process of making an enormous, life-altering decision that would have had long-lasting effects on virtually every aspect of my life came to a sudden halt. A relationship between me and just one other person absorbed virtually all aspects of my consciousness, changing everything in the process.  My desire to spend my time with that one other person suddenly became far more powerful than my desire to sever my ties with the past and attempt to create something new, including a new me. Now, months of tormenting indecision seem to have been wasted; time spent weighing “what ifs” was  on measuring circumstances that have changed. The words of Shakespeare resonate with me this morning as I contemplate my certainty about the power of this new experience: “If this be error and upon me prov’d, I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.” Those words have served as an anchor for me for much of my life. If they were to be proven erroneous now, in my waning years, I would wither away completely. But insofar as they remain absolutely reliable, I will remain iron-sure life is good.

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I’m taking my sister-in-law to her dental appointment this morning, where she will relinquish a broken tooth. Later today, my girlfriend and I will drive to Little Rock in connection with preparations for a visit with a surgeon, who I hope will reveal the results of my lung tissue biopsy. In a modestly ideal world, I will learn tomorrow that I have nothing to worry about; it’s all been a misreading of a PET scan, I’d like to hear, so I should feel free to take long, aimless road trips and fly around the world to see what I can see. Preferably with no worries about TSA and friends.

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It’s time to shower and shave and scurry. Thus, I am done!

 

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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