And So It Ends

It’s only 6:30, yet I am three hours into my Saturday. The gods of heaven and earth, at war earlier in the day, woke me from a troubled sleep during which I emptied a pistol into a substitute teacher who stole a child’s lunch money. The thief was somehow unharmed; that was even more troubling than the discharge of the weapon. The gods, by the way, remain engaged in periodic skirmishes at this hour.

I awoke to an electric sky, a thousand crooked fingers of lightning streaking across the darkness.  Echoes and rumbles that  trailed off into deep, angry growls followed claps of thunder that produced concussions that shook the floor and walls. The flash of lightning was a rapidly pulsing strobe light shining in my closed eyes, making sleep impossible. Not that sleep would have been possible with the chaotic noise that accompanies the collision of the firmament with the planet in its way. When such a story plays out, though, I do not want to sleep. I want to be a part of it. I want to be involved in some way, at least as a witness.

The power of the storm made me wish I could transport myself in time and space to the year  1800, into a deep indentation on the side of a cliff in what is now New Mexico. There, from a ledge on the side of the cliff, I will have a one-hundred-eighty degree view of the sky. From that vantage point, I will watch the lightning and hear the thunder and absorb the power of Mother Nature’s fury. With no artificial lights to intrude on the darkness, my view is pristine. I see only what Nature reveals to me. I hear only the language of the earth and sky in a battle to determine dominance. And, of course, I know Zeus will triumph. I just know. It’s interesting to me that I’m using future tense in a conversation with myself about going back in time to a place I’ve never been. A place I long to be. Fernweh, again, but taken a step further, longing to return to both a place and a time I’ve never been.

If desire took physical form, it would be wrapped around me like a thick ribbon; no one but I would know it was there, though, because in spite of its tactile qualities, it would be invisible. Unseen Fernweh with form.

Eine Reise tritt nur an, dessen Fernweh gegenüber der Angst vor Veränderung überwiegt.

This German sentence supposedly translates as “A journey occurs only when the desire for distant destinations is stronger than the fear of change.”  I have a different interpretation. To my way of thinking, here’s what the sentence means:

A journey begins only when the longing for a place one has never been outweighs the fear of staying mired in the present moment.

I’ve taken extreme liberties with the translation; it’s more an interpretation than a translation, as I said. I could have embellished it even more by investing Fernweh with physicality, but that might be over-the-top, even for a free-wheeling translator.


Yesterday, I facilitated a Zoom conversation in which interested people from my church revealed a bit about what matters to them and how they are spending their time (in these times of pandemic). It all went reasonably well until, at the end as I was attempting to wrap up the conversation, someone mentioned that I had not spoken about my own perspective. For some reason, when I began to say what matters to me, I almost was overcome with emotion completely inappropriate to the moment. I felt like a deer in headlights, unable to control myself as the oncoming car approached at full speed. I think I recovered fast enough that people might not have noticed, but I suspect not; these people are more perceptive than the average person on the street. I can write “what matters” dispassionately; for some reason, though, I cannot speak it without melting. That unflattering character flaw has accompanied me for as many years as I’ve been alive, as far as I recall. And it annoys me and embarrasses me. I think it’s one of the (many) reasons I tend to get close to an extremely small cadre of people; I’ve survived my embarrassment with them.


One of the people on the Zoom conversation yesterday spoke reverently about a book she is reading. It sounded interesting, so this morning I began listening to the audio-book version of The Journey of Crazy Horse: A Lakota History (the physical copies of the book are not immediately available from the Garland County Library). I’ve only gotten through a very little bit of it, but that little bit is fascinating. The author is the one reading the book aloud, which is helpful in that he is able to speak in the Lakota language so that it sounds like it is spoken by a native speaker, not someone trying to sound like a native speaker. Duh, I wonder why that is? My difficulty with audio books checked out on Hoopla from the library is that I am confined to listening to them in front of my computer; I would much rather listen to an audio book while driving in my car. I can’t, now that I’ve downloaded it to my laptop. I may have to buy a physical copy of the book.


I am going to attempt to form a Zoom-based interest group, though the church, to discuss spicy/fiery foods. Whether there will be sufficient participants remains to be seen. The group will not be announced until next week, at the earliest. While I’d much prefer to meet face-to-face with people who have an interest in spicy/fiery foods, this might get the ball rolling for a time in the future when I may not feel like I’m putting my life and my wife’s life in danger by exposing myself to people over whose engagements with others I have no control. That’s a long and laborious sentence. It should be sliced in half and surgically reconstructed into two or more sentences. Like much of what I write.


Aimless writing spills scraps of disconnected thoughts onto the keyboard, thereby polluting the screen with shreds of unrelated ideas. Those ideas blend with concepts unbecoming even a note scribbled hastily on an electronic napkin. The napkin, wet with the perspiration of the writer, gets stuck to the pages of an unfinished novel. The book tears the napkin the book is moved to make room for a mug of cold coffee and long-buried memories.  And it all comes down to this. This. What is this? This is an exercise in futility, causing me to decide to exorcise the demons that forced my fingers to strike the keys. And so it ends.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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2 Responses to And So It Ends

  1. Thanks for your kind words, Colleen. I suppose UUVC is the best place for me to experience a minor meltdown with minimum judgment. That notwithstanding, I would rather have more control over my emotions than have a safe place to lose control. 😉 I understand the emotional fragility of the realization that UUVC may not meet again as a big, comfortable group for a long, long time. It takes my breath away, too. And sorry the chorizo wasn’t defrosted, by the way. 😉

  2. Colleen Boardman says:

    John, being overcome with emotion with your UU friends is the best place to do it and the best people to do it with. My guess is that if more people saw it, they’d share more and feel more able to do it. What really got me choked up recently was the end of the online service when they sing “Peace be with you til we meet again…” and I started thinking, “When will that be??” Thanks for the online meetings; please keep doing it.

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