Trying to Understand the World

Today is my sister-in-law’s birthday. Happy Birthday, Carol! And tomorrow is my brother’s birthday. Happy Birthday, Tom!

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Let me tell you this: if you meet a loner, no matter what they tell you, it’s not because they enjoy solitude. It’s because they have tried to blend into the world before, and people continue to disappoint them.

~ Jodi Picoult ~

I don’t know that I entirely accept Picoult’s statement, taken from her book, My Sister’s Keeper, but I understand it. I understand how disappointment can leave a person feeling lost and alone. It’s as if the world played a ruthless trick—teasing with optimism and hope, only to snatch them away and replace them with pessimism and despair. The cruelest form of bait and switch that takes away the confidence in one’s ability to cope with facts.

Writers of fiction may simply be responding to bitter reality. They replace it, either with more acceptable circumstances or by painting ugly alternatives that make what is seem far more tolerable than what could be.

Suicide is the sharpest, devastatingly intense, and irrevocable response to extreme disappointment. That disappointment with the world—whether external or completely internal—is more severe than most people, thankfully, will ever experience. People respond to excruciating disappointment in radically different ways, ranging from suicide to passionate, almost furious, rebellion against it. I can only barely begin to imagine the depth of disappointment a person must feel to reach the conclusion that suicide is the only acceptable response. The word, “disappointment,” seems utterly inadequate to describe the intensity of the pain; but I think that must be what it is. Disappointment with the world or disappointment with oneself.

To suggest I might even begin to understand the depths of despair that could drive a person to suicide may be considered by some to be the height of arrogance. But I cannot be alone in thinking it; my arrogance is not in thinking it, but in having the gall to share what I think. There are some thoughts that one simply does not share. Unless one happens to be me. That’s one of my multitude of flaws; I express myself, even when what is inside my brain is uncomfortable to the world around me. Maybe that’s the wellspring of disappointment.

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I delivered a packet of tax-related material to an accountant yesterday. Whether it is sufficient remains to be seen; I won’t even have the opportunity to discuss the material with her until two weeks hence. And, then, the conversation will be by telephone, thanks to COVID. Time is running low on the extension I was granted to file my taxes. I hope the accountant can zip through it in short order.

Between now and then, I intend to go through the morass of paper I’ve allowed to pile up during the last fourteen months, filing away what needs to be kept and disposing of what can safely be discarded. I loathe disorder, even though often I am the chief purveyor of chaos in my life. Perhaps that statement is telling: maybe I can take from it the simple truth that I loathe myself for being unable or unwilling to keep my life in order.

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Last night’s binge-fest, during which we watched several additional episodes of How to Get Away with Murder, was thought-provoking. The evolution of the main character’s personality continued to reveal her as both a troubled woman and someone whose bitter personality is easy to understand. At the core of her deeply unlikeable character traits are responses to terrible emotional experiences; ultimately, she hates herself for who she is. Yet who she is arises from what she has experienced. Her behaviors and her attitudes are predictable in light of what she has been through; yet until those behaviors and attitudes change, she can have no hope of overcoming her experiences. It’s like a Catch-22 on steroids. As improbable as the plot has become, the program is absolutely riveting. We’re nearing the end of the sixth and final season (on Netflix); we’re already mourning the passing of the show as we near the final episode.

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I’ll spend the next few years trying to understand the world, a continuation of what I’ve been doing for the past 67 years (almost 68). I don’t think I’m any closer now than I was 60 years ago. I wonder whether Aristotle or Leonardo da Vinci or Dante or the button-maker’s apprentice or anyone else ever succeeded in the quest to understand the world?  Hard to say. I’ve never been able to ask them.

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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