If I could start over—from the very beginning—and had the ability to make the choice, I think I might choose to be Finnish or Estonian or Dutch. Many years ago, I spent a day in Helsinki, so the choice of Finland is based not only on information I have gleaned from the internet. And, if memory serves, I spent two or three days—again, years ago—in Amsterdam, so I have first-hand knowledge of the Netherlands. Though I have never set foot in Estonia, I know enough about the country to feel confident that choosing Estonian nationality would be a good choice, if it were mine to make.

Obviously, spending just a few hours in any place is not sufficient to justify a decision to remake one’s life. But the more I learn about these three countries, as well as a few others, the more confident I become in the legitimacy of my impossible wishes. None of these three countries sprang into my dream world overnight; I have for years imagined what life might have been like had I been born into a culture I perceive as—what is the right ways to describe it?—cleaner and simpler and more pristine and more fundamentally humane than the one in which I was born and matured.

I do not condemn American culture; it has been good to me in many ways I probably do not deserve. But I do not admire its overwhelming attachment to capitalism and the thirst for material objects and wealth that capitalism breeds. And I detest the adoration of individualism and its accompanying passion for guns that have metastasized so thoroughly that they seem to have nearly erased the sense of social responsibility. Power and control seem vested in those who have the most selfish, loudest, and most strident voices…and who have ready access to weaponry.  Maybe I do condemn many aspects of American culture…but that condemnation is not responsible for my appreciation of other cultures. No, the appeal of other cultures rests with the cultures themselves, not specifically in how radically different they are from the one to which I am bound.

Had I been more courageous as a young man, I might have fled from a culture in which patriotism and nationalism have become synonymous. I might have taken the risks necessary to explore other cultures through immersion, rather than simply hunger for them as I viewed them from afar. Had I been born in Finland or Estonia or the Netherlands, I probably would be multi-lingual. And probably I would be less risk-averse. But I might be dead. Or languishing in a Finnish prison. Or bitter about living in poverty, compared to the “average” American lifestyle, as I scraped by on my meager income as an Estonian farmer.

There is no point in wishing for the impossible, of course. Except to exercise the imagination. And to prompt one’s curiosity about circumstances markedly different from one’s own. While daydreams can be exciting, they can darken one’s day-to-day experiences with artificial obstacles made of imaginary clouds. Fantasies that cannot come true can trigger bitterness, if you let them. That’s a battle best avoided. Dreams should be tempered with gratitude for reality. Sometimes, appreciation is difficult to achieve, but worth the effort.

No culture can live if it attempts to be exclusive.

~ Mahatma Gandhi ~


Today, mi novia and I will attend a meeting of the local chapter/branch of NAACP. I do not delude myself into thinking I will ever be able to fully understand what life as a Black person is like. But I want to be as open as possible to being supportive of change, to the extent that the color of one’s skin or the cultural milieu in which one lives/lived is not an impediment to the safe enjoyment of one’s life. Perhaps immersing myself, on occasion, in conversations surrounding the fight for true equality will help me better understand how I can be supportive. And how I can change myself so that whatever vestiges of racism remain embedded in my psyche can be extracted and discarded. I wonder whether that is even possible? I shall see.


The day has begun. Unless it is halted in its tracks, it will continue on until is morphs into night.


To the European, it is a characteristic of the American culture that, again and again, one is commanded and ordered to ‘be happy.’ But happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue. One must have a reason to ‘be happy.’

~ Viktor E. Frankl ~

About John Swinburn

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