A Kiss is Just a Kiss Except When…

Once again, I was unable to sleep through the night. Though I went to bed early, I woke only two or three hours into the night’s sleep. From that point forward, I drifted in and out of sleep at roughly ten-minute intervals. Finally, around 3, I got up for a while. Then, back in bed by 3:30. And, finally, up for the day before 4:30.

I have a bit on my mind, though none of it represents anything overwhelmingly pressing. The most important matter, I suppose, is the need to call the funeral home in Houston. They told me Friday they would need the email addresses for my sister and brothers (and me), so they can send each of us a message. The message will invite us to “e-sign” a document attesting to the fact that we are my dead brother’s only immediate family and that we agree to and request that his body be cremated.  And the funeral home will want my credit card number, I imagine, to pay for the cremation. Therein one can clearly see the intersection of capitalism and the delicate social customs designed to soften the hardest edges of life. And the edges where life intersects with death.

Beyond those unpleasantly fresh reminders of my brother’s death just two days ago, my duties are rather dull and innocuous. I still have not gone to the optical shop to pick up the replacement frames for the ones that broke a couple of weeks ago; I will do that today. And the delayed process of removing the overlaid flooring in the new house is scheduled to commence today. So, I’ll need to clear the floor of tarps and paint buckets and chairs and other odds and ends. I look forward to learning whether the hardwood flooring beneath the less-than-stellar luxury vinyl tile can be saved. There’s more. Lots more. I should, from now until we move into the new house and complete the sale of the current one, reject any offers to be social. I should just work. But I’ve already made commitments, so I guess that is out of the question. I want a road trip. A long, meandering road trip. Oh, yes.


Why is it that we establish such utterly arbitrary limits on certain human interactions? For example, we shake hands (or fist bump, courtesy of COVID), but hugging may or may not be an appropriate greeting. The legitimacy of hugging depends on an imprecisely defined degree of familiarity between two people. And kissing on the cheeks is acceptable only if the imprecision of familiarity is taken to another, equally impossible to measure, level. Kissing on the mouth is strictly forbidden, save between people whose familiarity is close in the extreme—except when it’s not.

When one is no quite sure of the degree of familiarity one has with another person, awkwardness abounds. I may feel sufficiently familiar with a person to feel comfortable with a hug, but they may not have reached that point yet…so an attempted hug may be met with an uncomfortably awkward withdrawal.

I’m not happy with this awkward imprecision. I wish we all felt comfortable with hugging, kissing, etc. Seriously, why is an embrace in which two bodies are in close, human-to-human touch acceptable, but a kiss between those two people, in which only lips are involved, is not? I realize I am asking rhetorical questions here. I might find it more than a little upsetting if my girlfriend kissed another man. But, of course, I should be permitted to kiss and be kissed by my women friends because….well, because double standard.  Aha! There it is! We (or I, at least) can ask and answer hypothetical questions with ease, but when hypotheses are put to the test in the real world, we retreat to  our old tried and true (and maddeningly imprecise) social limitations and restrictions. I am extremely liberated from old and outdated social conventions. Except when I’m not.


A trigger, squeezed ever tighter during a particularly sensitive moment, causes a firing pin to slam against the capsule that holds a highly unstable primer, causing a spark. The spark ignites combustible material, converting it to a rapidly expanding fury. The explosive force of that bottled fury forces an object, at high speed, in the direction of its target to do the damage it was designed to inflict.

Was that set of sentences intended as a metaphor for the eruption of rage? Or was that a blow-by-blow description of the manner in which emotion launches deadly, irrevocable anger? Or was it simply an explanation of the process whereby a simple bullet becomes a deadly projectile? Perhaps it was meant as all three. Only the person who formed those sentences knows their intent. Even laden with knowledge of the genesis of those letters strung together, though, the writer drenches the words with interpretations that may not mesh with the way the reader deciphers them. We cannot know until after we have uttered or written words whether the meaning we attach to them will coincide with the audience’s understanding.

You may attach deadly significance to my empty threats against the peace and tranquility of someone I find offensive. But my emotive flash may simply constitute a mechanism wherein my murderous rage is softened into harmless, albeit deafening, noise. Societies impose somewhat arbitrary rules on behaviors; partly as a means of filtering out the frightening disparities between what a person thinks and what he does. Threats uttered at high volume, despite the fact that they may represent a process of “calming” anger into simple noise, conflict with some of societies’ somewhat arbitrary rules. We grudgingly accept (or not) the infringement on our liberties as a generally tolerable means of tamping down fear. Yet those rules can be too much to bear when they remove pressure-relief mechanisms. In those instances, the rules can trigger the very behaviors they are meant to quell.

I’m just thinking with my fingers again. And I acknowledge that my thoughts may be too abstruse to be understandable to anyone but me. So be it.


Time to go about my day.

About John Swinburn

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