Returning to a Private Nest

The clock tells me it’s not yet 4:30 a.m., almost an hour after I finally gave up in my fight to breathe and sleep at the same time. Now, sitting upright, I can breathe through my nose again. An hour ago, I felt like I was struggling for every breath, whether through my nose or through my mouth.

Notwithstanding the wonderful Greek avgolemono soup and pastitsio dinner (topped off with an extraordinary baklava dessert) we had with friends last night, I woke up about 1:30, very hungry. And starved for oxygen, but that’s another story.  I have done nothing to assuage my desire for food. Instead, I’ve stoked my gustatory libido with a cup of coffee. And I suppose I’ll have more coffee before I have food. Ach! What a fine meal that was!  In line with the known preferences of at least one of last night’s dinner partners, I have a taste this morning for the offerings of a charcuterie board. I envision a board filled with sliced meats, cheeses, olives, hard crackers, nuts, various mustards, and a sampling of other goodies. The contents of the board normally would call out for wine, but it’s a tad early in the day for that. Plus, my IC and I have avoided alcohol for more than a week in an effort to jump-start a bit of a weight-loss regimen. Yeah, and a charcuterie board probably is not on that “diet,” either. Small steps. Everything in moderation.

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In spite of my desire to understand others’ perspectives before making judgments about their motives, I often fail to even attempt understanding. Instead, I make assumptions about why people behave as they do. Often, those assumptions carry with them deeply judgmental attitudes that are, at best, extremely uncharitable. For example, I am biased against people who refuse to get vaccinated or to wear masks as a means of minimizing the likelihood of spreading COVID-19. People who refuse both tend to bear the full force of my sanctimonious wrath. While my indignation may seem almost a coveted badge of honor, in the general context of my personality, I am embarrassed by it. Until I have made a serious attempt to see the world from another person’s vantage point, my dismissal of his or her position on anything of consequence is ill-informed and capricious; it is inexcusable. And my incomplete understanding of another’s position on such matters is just as blind and pig-headed as I judge their opposing point of view to be.

To be clear, understanding another’s perspectives on masks and vaccinations does not mean that I will agree with or adopt those perspectives. Understanding does not equate to endorsement. But understanding the philosophical foundations of an opposing view is absolutely necessary if one’s opposition to those views is the carry any legitimate weight. So, to dismiss a refusal to wear a mask or get a vaccination is evidence of “stupidity” or “blind political allegiance to an idiotic mental framework,” without getting in the head of the person refusing those measures is dangerous. Failure to examine all vantage points weakens opposing arguments. And the obviously harshly judgmental language I used in the preceding sentence does not help keep conversations about the matter calm and rational.

But, God, is it ever hard not to simply write off—as grossly mentally deficient—the people who seem oblivious to overwhelming scientific evidence about COVID-19! It is damn hard to figure out their perspective. But it is possible. I’ve found, for example, that many “deniers” simply do not trust, nor do they believe, government. Many people do not believe the numbers of deaths attributed to COVID-19 are legitimate. They attribute ulterior motives to medical reports about pandemic-related deaths. And these same people do not believe scientists know enough to make judgments about best approaches to the pandemic. Many deniers have seen, in their views, too many about-face decisions about matters such as: mask-wearing versus bare-faces; the necessity of means of virus avoidance (like washing every piece of fruit and every container that crosses a home’s threshhold); etc., etc. In their view, science is either pure truth of pure fantasy; there is no room for incremental understanding of something even as new and unknown as the virus that brings us COVID-19.

It is not enough to assume, with presumptuous dismissal, that those beliefs are mindless. They are not. They have a basis. The basis may arguably be invalid, but it is a basis that must be acknowledged if one is truly to understand the positions. Understanding is not enough, either. Again, acknowledgement, is critical.  Treating an opposing position as having at least some legitimacy is vital. If there is any question about that, I would challenge anyone on “my” side of the argument to consider their reactions to “deniers” calling us “sheep” or otherwise treating our beliefs as invalid and as evidence of our stupidity.

Okay. Rationally, I get my arguments about judging “deniers” and I believe them. But I have a much harder time with them in practice. I admire people who can remain calm in the face of bitter and frenzied disagreement in the context of name-calling and contempt. I admire people who can maintain their composure even in circumstances in which their intelligence or sanity is being loudly and openly questioned or ridiculed.

The next step is to become of those people I admire. I keep trying, but I keep falling short. I just have to keep trying.

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I could go on writing here for days, I think. I am in a conversational mood at this early hour. Now, the clock reads 4:43 (I keep shifting paragraphs around, so this post is not being written in chronological order).

There are few people I think I could call at this hour, just to talk, and have a reasonable expectation that I would not be rejected out of hand. I do not know why that is, although I do try to understand the perspective. If I were to get a call in the wee hours from anyone I know, I suspect I would answer and plan to talk as long as necessary. My assumption would be that the caller needs me to be there, so I would be obliged to be there. I’ve never, to my recollection, had such a late-night or early-morning call, but I’m pretty sure I know me and that I’d take it without complaint.  But my interest in conversation this morning is not a need; it’s just a fancy. In an ideal world, I’d have a friend who likes to go out for coffee and pastries in the wee hours; and, in that same ideal world, there would be a place to go in the wee hours for such a repast. Alas, the ideal world melted into the ether of time sometime in the early part of the last century, I think. Perhaps I belong in a different era; an era in which personal social engagement with like-minded insomniacs was sufficient reason to explore the night.

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Be slow to fall into friendship; but when thou art in, continue firm and constant.

~ Socrates ~

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This morning, we are driving to a small town about fifty miles away, where we will have lunch with a couple of very good friends I’ve known for well over forty years. We’ll meet at a Laotian restaurant in this tiny town and catch up with one another after too much time and too little interaction between us. I have few friends with whom I feel absolutely comfortable sleeping in their homes and to them sleeping in mine. These people are such friends. I would, of course, welcome others to my home—and have done many times—but these are friends who, when they enter my house, are just as much at home as when they are in their own house. They do not need to ask for something to eat; they can raid the refrigerator or the pantry. They do not need to ask for a blanket; they can scrounge around and find one. They are home when they are here. At least I hope that’s how they feel. That’s the way I want any good friend to feel. Completely at home in my house. I wonder whether that’s simply a romantic notion? I don’t think so. I have come to recognize, after far too much time, that I have more friends than I once thought. I am slow to warm up to people—probably a vestige of an earlier need to protect myself from emotional injury—but increasingly I am finding that, once I do, the world brightens a little. I will never be particularly social; I much prefer to listen than to talk (writing is my way of “talking”). But I do enjoy conversation in the right circumstances, even though I might seem invisible in many settings.

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All right, world. I am ready to face you even as the clock continues to plod along, ever so slowly, toward 5:30. My IC probably won’t be up for at least an hour and a half, maybe two hours, so I have considerable more solitude and seclusion to keep me sane for a bit longer. Perhaps I’ll have more coffee. Oh, a sweet roll would be good. Maybe a leftover baklava would be even better! I can sit and absorb a caffeine and sugar boost, right here in my private nest.

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Oh, good morning, Ducky! You’re probably up by now, yes 🙂

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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1 Response to Returning to a Private Nest

  1. Meg Koziar says:

    I’m awae, early too, John. Enjoyed this morning’s conversation – my part silent, of course. Do you think your breathing prolems related to some ingredient in your Greek dinner?
    I agree with you about trying t understand “illogical” people. Thanks for writing about that. Have a lovely day!

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