Pleasure, with Pain for Leaven

One year ago today, my late wife tripped and fell as she was rushing to her study, phone in hand, to speak with her cardiologist’s nurse. She had called the cardiologist, at my insistence, to discuss her growing weakness and her difficulty with stairs and with walking in general.

The fall itself was not terrible, but because of her heart condition, the aftermath was awful. Edema caused her banged up knee and leg to swell badly. Extremely low blood pressure, likely the culprit causing her to fall, persisted long after the incident. She was in the hospital or rehabilitation facilities for most of the following five months until her death. The incident in July last year did not represent the onset of her condition, though. She had been growing progressively weaker for at least a year, and more likely two years, beforehand. Her condition, cardiomyopathy or congestive heart failure, had been with her for decades.

I’ve concluded, after a lot of thought and self-recriminations and feelings of guilt, that I could have done nothing that could have changed the outcome. Yet that conclusion does not lessen the pain of her loss. But I am extremely fortunate to have developed an extremely close, loving relationship with a woman who understands my grief and with whom I share so very much. I am confident my late wife would have wished such happiness for me.

Anniversaries marking painful events or—in this case—the beginning of long, painful periods, are not reasons for celebration. But I think marking such milestone events can be healthy and can bring otherwise diffuse grief into sharp, but temporary, focus. I am sure I will remember and grieve more today than “usual,” but I also will celebrate my relationship with the woman who is helping me through the remainder of the lifelong process of grief.

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When my IC and I head toward Tulsa, we will stop to visit with two friends with whom I have had the longest and deepest relationship. We’ll have lunch at Rolando’s and we will talk, spending far less time than any of us would like, about life and love and the joys of a couple, one in her early-seventies and one in his early eighties, laying new flooring together. All of my friends are crazy like that; I would have it no other way. But this couple is especially eccentric in ways that I find absolutely compelling; that’s why I love them.

Once in Tulsa, my IC and I will spend a few days exploring several museums (perhaps among them The Gilcrease Museum, the Woody Guthrie Center, the Philbrook Museum of Art, the Tulsa Air & Space Museum, and the Greenwood Cultural Center) and otherwise exploring the city. There’s no way we can visit all of the museums in Tulsa during our brief visit, but we’ll hit several of them. And we’ll almost certainly stop at Costco before we head home (knowing, of course, that a new Costco is scheduled to open in Little Rock in a matter of days). There’s more in Tulsa, of course, and we will do what we can to experience as much as we can without wearing ourselves out.

As much as anything, our trip to Tulsa will be an opportunity for the two of us to get away from the surprising number and scope of obligations we have in the Village. For a couple of retirees, our lives seem extremely busy and demanding; we want and need some down time together. And so we will get it!

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The Affirmation of Covenant in my church is stated as follows:

Love is the doctrine of this church,
And the quest of truth its sacrament,
And service its prayer,
To dwell together in peace,
To seek knowledge in freedom,
To serve humankind in fellowship,
To the end that all souls shall grow
Into harmony with the good.
Thus, do we covenant with one another.

The first time I heard it read by the congregation, when I was a new visitor, something about it felt strong and emotionally compelling. I was especially enamored of the first line: “Love is the doctrine of this church.” Much of what I hear and read in connection with the church and the religion on which it is based reminds me of some of the core concepts of Buddhism as I understand it. (I STILL have a hard time calling Unitarian Universalism a religion for what are probably purely personal reasons related to my lifelong bias against organized religion.) At any rate, this morning my reminder prompted me to read this from my little black anthology of Zen quotations (The Essence of Zen):

It is not that I do not wish
To mix with others
But living alone in freedom
Is a better path for me.

When I think about the misery
Of those in this world,
Their sadness becomes mine.

Oh, that my monk’s robe
Was wide enough
To gather up all
The suffering people
In this floating world.

~ Ryokan ~

The contradictions of life are so fascinating! And ideas that, on the surface, seem unrelated or utterly disconnected, can be intricately intertwined. Thinking is such a rewarding endeavor! I wish everyone would do it.

One of my favorite poems (Atalanta in Calydon), written by Algernon Charles Swinburne (no relation, to my knowledge), includes the following stanza:

Before the beginning of years
There came to the making of man
Time, with a gift of tears;
Grief, with a glass that ran;
Pleasure, with pain for leaven;
Summer, with flowers that fell;
Remembrance fallen from heaven,
And madness risen from hell;
Strength without hands to smite;
Love that endures for a breath:
Night, the shadow of light,
And life, the shadow of death.

That stanza contains so many prompts for intense thought that I think it may be the single most thought-provoking piece of literature I have ever read. But probably not. 😉 Everything in our experiences is another reason to think, deeply, about what it is we are about.

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P.S. Thank you, Debbie, for responding to my request in yesterday’s post.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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3 Responses to Pleasure, with Pain for Leaven

  1. Thank you, sir! You are very kind and I greatly appreciate your sentiments and good wishes. I believe my lovely wife would have, indeed, wished happiness for me.

  2. Jim says:

    I am very happy for you, monsignor… You deserve to be happy and to have someone who will share that joy with you. And, I have not one scintilla of doubt in my mind that your lovely late wife would have wished the same for you.

  3. Debbie Kirilov says:

    You are so welcome John. It’s all true except for my 60 decades of friendship with your IC. Time flies with so much fun! Loved today’s post.

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

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