And We’re Off

If I’ve written about hugs recently, I hope I will be forgiven for another round of hug-appreciation; I just feel the need to give accolades to the value of hugs. Hugs used to make me very uncomfortable. I felt like I was invading someone else’s space and they were invading mine. The only hugs that seemed good and natural were the ones I shared with my late wife. Otherwise, there was nothing pleasant about a hug, really. I went through the motions when greeting people, but I did not really like hugging or being hugged. But then something changed. I don’t know if it was a single experience that brought about the change, but I feel sure that one incident had a lot to do with it. A person hugged me, commenting that a hug should last for quite awhile; I think the idea was that it takes more than a cursory touch for the goodness of a hug to take hold. I remember thinking how good it felt to be in that embrace. The idea that such an experience should be more than fleeting appealed to me. That elation of being in that embrace is something I hope I can recapture. But hugs—if one of the participants makes it last too long for the other’s comfort—can be awkward. For that reason, even though I like long hugs that convey real affection, I tend to make them short and incomplete. By incomplete I mean a hug with a very light touch and an almost cursory (and nearly impossible to feel) squeeze. It’s too bad, in my view, that people tend to feel uncomfortable with the bodily contact involved in actual hugs. They tend to accept hugs almost at arm’s distance, with only a few square inches of clothing touching another few square inches of the other person’s clothing before the “hug” is over. I think the variations in the depth and breadth of hugs calls for more descriptive terms. Calling everything within those variations a “hug” is akin to referring to all cars as “vehicles” instead of Chevrolet or Toyota or Buick or Honda, etc. So, how about some more descriptive terms for hugs? “Clutch” might best describe a hug in which each participant wrap arms tightly around the other and holds on tight for twenty seconds or more. This kind of hug is what I have grown to enjoy and appreciate. A “cling” could describe a less tight embrace that also lasts for quite some time. Less tight might signal that the relationship is deep, but will not lead to cohabitation. At the other end of the spectrum, a “flump” might be the word to describe a flaccid, brief, essentially superficial hug. I find those kinds of hugs distasteful and disingenuous. Of course, they may be genuine expressions…but not of affection…more like distaste or disapproval.

What the hell. Any hug is better than no hug at all, isn’t it? Of course it is. Hugs can repair things that are broken, just as they can strengthen things that already are strong.


The world will not collapse if I relinquish all of my responsibilities. Every one of them. Even if I sit alone for weeks in a stone building on a deserted beach on a coastline no one ever visits, swilling vodka, the world will not implode. No matter what I do or do not do, the world will take virtually no notice. Nothing of consequence will change, regardless of how active or inactive I am. The message to myself is this: almost nothing I do is vital to the survival of the planet. Nothing I do has an appreciable impact. My point is that all sorts of fabulous circumstances and awful experiences befall billions of people every day, with or without my intervention. Life goes on. If I were to depart Planet Earth on a spacecraft bound for Mars, glaciers I left behind here on Earth would continue to calve and disappear at alarming speed.  If I were to stay right where I am, doing what I am doing, glaciers here on Earth would continue to calve and disappear at alarming speed.

That’s the macro view. My existence is essentially irrelevant and meaningless. But the micro view is radically different. My glance at someone at just the right moment could have an enormous impact on a person. Perhaps the words I write here could be sufficiently thought-provoking that a reader’s perspective on something important to the reader changes. Giving someone a hug at precisely the moment they need it most could be my most significant contribution to humankind. Or, at least, to the person I hugged. Little interactions on an individual basis are the ones that really matter. The only ones that matter.


Vladamir Putin is roughly one year older than I. I cannot imagine someone of my age engaging in such horrific acts as Putin. But I must accept reality; Putin is a brutal monster. He cunningly established himself, during his career in military and state intelligence services, as a political operative, able to assume positions of increasing power. He worked in foreign intelligence with the KGB before resigning to pursue a political career. For a short time after moving into Boris Yeltsin’s administration, he served as director of the  Federal Security Service (FSB). Scanning his professional history, it seems obvious to me that his philosophical perspectives were established and fed by his years in foreign intelligence. He has been an enthusiastic supporter of Soviet-style power consolidation for many years. Apparently, he believes in an ethos that rewards nationalism and expansive control.

Imagine that J. Edgar Hoover had managed to be elected President of the United States. His history of using illegal but essentially invisible strong-arm tactics would have given him unprecedented ability to frighten those around him into refraining from opposing his authoritarian tactics as Commander in Chief. Hoover’s history of running the FBI gave him access to information he could manipulate to destroy his enemies; Putin had similar access to similar information in the Soviet Union and in Russia. A J. Edgar Hoover administration could have led to horrendous abuses of power in the U.S. A Vladamir Putin administration has done and is doing that in Russia today. And it is flexing its muscles and attempting to spread its wings.


And we’re off. My house went on the market, officially, some time after midnight last night. Most of the photos are dulled by the fact that they were taken when the house was enveloped in fog; there was very little sunlight to brighten the images. I hope the Realtor’s recommended price is the right one for this house. I hope the house will sell fast and the closing will happen quickly and without a hitch.  And I hope the buyer is a nice person who will get along well with the neighbors on both sides; they are nice people who deserve nice, considerate, helpful neighbors.


I wonder whether anything I write is the right thing at the right moment? Does it matter, on the micro level? It doesn’t, of course, on the macro level, but I hope it does, for someone, on the micro level. For me, I suppose writing is the equivalent to salvation, though I’m not sure what it’s saving me from. I suppose it saves me from exploding or coming unraveled or whatever else happens to a person when he keeps everything tightly hidden from view until, when it breaks out of its self-made prison, it suddenly shatters the sky with the enormity and ferocity of its release. Yeah, if writing can save me from that, all of the unread letters and unfollowed advice and the rest of the drivel will have been worth it. Just keep me from releasing an explosion of emotions kept sealed in a steel safe.

About John Swinburn

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