Internal Conversations

When one’s thoughts seem unable to focus on anything but matters too difficult and unpleasant to accept, I think the brain reacts by pursuing the meaningless and mundane. That is the only explanation I can think of to explain why I began pondering this:

How it is that we like our coffee at 189 degrees when it’s brewed, knowing full well it will cool quickly to temperatures far lower? The same is true of casseroles, steaks, etc., etc. Some of us insist on beginning our experience with food and drink at precise temperatures, but subsequently accept previously unacceptable temperatures after initial exposure to our lips. Does coffee at 187 or 180 or 175 taste appreciably different than hotter coffee? Or is it the temperature that makes hotter coffee more appealing? If the latter, why not discard the remainder of the cup after a sip or two, replacing it with a new, perfectly hot coffee? Ditto steaks, casseroles, etc.

The more I ponder these matters, though, the more my thoughts begin to answer my own question. As I begin to sip my very hot coffee, I have to be careful not to burn my tongue. Still, I enjoy that hot liquid quite a lot. As it cools, the sips become larger and the taste fills my mouth more. But, at some point, it becomes cool enough that I realize I must hurry to finish the cup or it will be too cool to be appealing (iced coffee, of course, is another story). When it reaches that “too cool” point, I either microwave the remaining coffee in the cup (which yields a warmer but not as satisfying liquid) or replace the cup with a new one.

And with steak, as some point in the cooling process the delicious fat begins to congeal, trapping the most flavorful flavor components of the meat. Either I reheat the steak or save it for another meal in which the flavor of cold beef steak is appropriate; think a salad of some sort.

I think I went off on a tangent, as I am wont to do. Let me return to my original thought. We tend to reach out and grab anything that promises to anesthetize emotional pain. Drugs, alcohol…meaningless and mundane questions. But the problem with anesthetizing emotional pain is that it comes back after the anesthetic is withdrawn. In other words, the anesthetic masks the pain, it doesn’t eliminate it. It doesn’t excise it from the brain. But what will? What removes that pain? Some say time heals all wounds. Perhaps.  But consider a bullet wound to the abdomen; do we want to rely on time to take care of it, or would we prefer professional medical care in a sterile environment?

What might be an emotional equivalent? How about the death of a spouse or the sudden abandonment by a lifelong partner? Let time handle them? The victim of a gunshot to the gut needs immediate attention and aftercare that will help prevent infection and promote healing. What about the emotional victims? That’s the question. That. Is. The. Question.

But in all this consideration of the “survivors” of pain, both physical and emotional, do we forget the other end of the spectrum? The guy who accidentally shot his friend in the stomach? The dying spouse? The long-abused partner?  Life is complex. Simple answers work only with simple questions. Therefore, simple answers don’t work with life. I think I could write a dissertation on the complexity of human life. But it would be incomplete, because human life is far too complex to be analyzed or explained in even the most voluminous dissertation.


Yesterday, as I was skimming Facebook, I came across what may be a bogus ad for WishDate, I think (or maybe a real one), advertising that it connects “Gorgeous young women seeking older gentlemen.” Yeah, right. Let’s make it more realistic, shall we?

“Gorgeous young women seeking older, balding, overweight, homely gentlemen.” Then, below the tagline, we could have an image of a gorgeous young woman with an air quote: “I’m so tired of men with six-pack abs and endless energy. What I’m after is a generous old fat man who can barely stand up but has boatloads of money.”

Does anyone ever fall for these ads? I am too much of a skeptic to ever entertain such obvious schemes. And I’m glad I am so skeptical.


Overpowering guilt washes over me like a wave when I think about my pain and my sadness. I’m not the one whose pain and sadness matters. I will remain. I will continue to be able to experience the offers—or inflictions—of life. I am not the victim, though I wrote something a moment ago that suggested otherwise. Life is too complex to categorize and compartmentalize. I wonder whether our attempts to impose the logic of impossibly simple physical laws on the impossibly chaotic realities of life?


Today, I will go to the hospital earlier than usual, in the hope of catching the attending physician on his rounds. I spoke to him late yesterday afternoon (he sought me out, which I deeply appreciated) and gave me assurances my wife would not be discharged to home hospice care. She had become nonresponsive, which I gather is one of the Medicare measures of eligibility for in-hospital hospice care. I want to be there when he examines my wife and evaluates her condition. I’ll leave within an hour or so. For now, my sister-in-law in on her way here for coffee and conversation. A very welcome respite from my internal conversations.


About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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