Curious and Needy

There was a time when works of fiction were far more adept at capturing my imagination than were revelations about historical events. While fiction remains an important force in keeping my inquisitiveness and creativity alive, well-told stories of earth-changing historical events are at least equally interesting to me these days. The thing about “history,” though, is that it is viewed through the lens of time and experience, so even so-called dry facts and figures become fodder for interpretation. Actions and events have meaning beyond simple occurrence; their impacts are subject to one’s perspective and analysis.

One event in history (actually, the trigger for a plethora of events that followed) that recently has captured my attention and interest is the Lisbon earthquake of November 1, 1755. A BBC Reel video by Izabela Cardoso & Fernando Teixeira asserts that the response to the earthquake by the Marquis of Pombal (Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo) led to the modern science of seismology. The Marquis effectively ruled the Portuguese Empire as chief minister to King Joseph I. The event, the videographers and their primary sources suggest, coincided with and perhaps triggered the beginning of the Age of Enlightenment, in which science and scientific evidence began to assert dominance over religious imagination and theory in interpreting the world around us. A writer (Vic Echegoyen, author of Resurrecta, an “historical novel” about the Lisbon earthquake) says the earthquake unchained a series of earthshaking events like the end of slavery in Portugal, which prompted the abolition of slavery in other European countries. Echegoyen suggests the response to the Lisbon earthquake was responsible in part for the American Revolution, as well. Though something of a stretch, that assertion is worth reflecting on and exploring further.

A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.

~ Marcus Garvey ~

I love it when I get wrapped up in an issue about which I knew virtually nothing. The sense that there remains something new and different that has the capacity to capture my attention so thoroughly is breathtaking. It almost makes life worth living, after all, if for no other reason than to get to the end of the story. The down side of getting so enmeshed in such stuff is that I sometimes hit a dead end. Though I’d like to read the book, Resurrecta, I find that it is available only in Portuguese and in Spanish, neither of which is suited to my insufficient linguistic capabilities. If I were king, I would demand that all children be taught to fluently read and speak at least two—and preferably three or more—languages. Europeans and others who recognize the incredible value of proficiency in multiple languages are, in many respects, quite superior to Americans, who arrogantly seem to think English is the only language anyone needs to understand. Increasingly, I feel ashamed to acknowledge I belong to that arrogant subspecies.


To acquire knowledge, one must study; but to acquire wisdom, one must observe.

~ Marilyn vos Savant ~


My intellectual batteries sometimes seem to run so low that I feel at risk of joining the masses of people whose only sources of amusement are action-based violent video games and Survivor-like television shows. Fortunately, I actually haven’t crossed into that murky, ugly swamp of an existence, but on occasion I ask myself what’s stopping me. Whenever I have gotten dangerously close to abandoning inquisitive thought, I’ve gotten lucky in that I’ve encountered someone who is sufficiently similar to me and sufficiently different to spark my interest. And, then, we manage to engage in conversation that refuels my tired, nearly-drained batteries. Those of the people I call my friends. It’s too easy, though, to let those relationships languish while I embark on other pursuits that seem important but, in hindsight, always seem petty and superficial. The lesson always sticks, but not firmly enough to remove the risk. That’s why I sometimes think a regular practice of quietly reflecting on what is really important in one’s life is vital. It is by thinking, deeply, about such stuff that one comes to realize that material wealth has no real value; it is just unnecessary decoration.


Real hugs last a minimum of twenty seconds. I learned that from one of those people who really matter. Anything less than twenty seconds is just a torso handshake, in my view. But casual hugs between mere acquaintances can take less time, of course. I think back to the constant embraces I have been watching on The Sopranos. The hugs are, in fact, handshakes elevated to full-body embraces, with kisses to the cheek added like a cherry on top of a milkshake. If one is reared in a culture in which it’s not just “okay” for male (and female) friends to embrace but, instead, it is expected and demanded, one has no qualms about hugs. But in other cultures—cultures ruined by puritanical ideas and attitudes—hugs seem to be viewed as overtly sexual and unbecoming “civilized” society. Ach! Humans sometimes are odd and unhappy creatures.


Off I go to confront society and seek out hugs.

About John Swinburn

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