Good Fortune

The news from my visit to the oncologist yesterday was as I had hoped: nothing new. No changes; no indications of anything untoward taking place at the cellular level, no need to be concerned in the least. So, consuming the barium slurry had a positive outcome.

But before I could celebrate, I had to deal with my car’s battery, which died in the parking lot of the oncology clinic. Thanks to my AAA membership, I got a jump start within fifteen minutes of making a call. (My call, by the way, was answered by an automaton and the rest of my interactions were based on a smart-phone app texted to me by the AAA automaton.) The live tow-truck driver, Dustin, suggested I go to Walmart to get a new battery; best prices and good service, he said. So I did. I went to Walmart on Central, where I was told they had a battery in stock and it would take in the neighborhood of thirty minutes to handle the exchange. Mi novia, who had met me at the oncology clinic and who followed me to Walmart, took me out for lunch while the battery was being replaced. During lunch, I got a text, then a phone call, from Walmart. “Oops. We do not have the battery in stock, after all. But we called the Albert Pike store, and they confirm they have one.” So, we finished lunch and mi novia dropped me off at the Walmart on Central. I drove to the Albert Pike store, where I was told the wait would be two hours. It was more like thirty minutes. Though it’s always a pain to deal with dead batteries, yesterday’s experience was a lesson in gratitude. I was grateful that AAA was so responsive and that Dustin, the tow truck driver, came to my aid so quickly. And I was grateful that I was able to get a new battery; even though it was a more involved process than I would have liked, it was relatively painless, and it did not rob me of an entire day. In hindsight, I was quite fortunate to be wrestling with the effects of a dead battery than with the effects of a resurgence of cancer or the effects of a military invasion of the place where I live.

The lesson in gratitude was this: if one puts one’s experiences in context, one will find that there is reason for being grateful, even when circumstances are not “ideal.” Though things could always be better, they also could be considerably worse. Context and comparisons can be used either to complain or to celebrate; it’s a matter of choice.


I sometimes regret agreeing to do things I once claimed I would like to do. Odd, isn’t it?


Incivility in the political arena disturbs us. We fret about politicians modeling uncivil behaviors, worried that impressionable young people will imitate the interactions they see, thereby being molded into rude bullies who lack compassion. Though politicians deserve some of the blame, most of the culpability for bad behavior falls to the rest of us. We allow civility to be cast aside in favor of doing as much damage to our political opponents as possible. Debates in which participants must articulate and defend their policies are too tame for us. We prefer to watch and listen as “our candidate” verbally assaults their opponent, inflicting mortal wounds with weapons crafted from lies and half-truths. Yet when the other side lands painful blows, we complain about the demise of civility on the public stage. We are hypocrites. We accuse the other side of playing dirty politics, but we find ways to defend our own abusive gamesmanship, claiming we had no choice but to use every political weapon in our arsenal—considering how the other side “started it.” Like children, we lay blame elsewhere in defense of our own misbehaviors.

Taking sides in political contests leaves me feeling dirty and exposed, as if I were the ugly partisan. And, of course, when I take sides, I am the ugly partisan. Rather than support a specific candidate—and rather than attack one—the honorable thing to do is to take a stand in favor of (or in opposition to) a particular position and/or philosophy. We claim we do that today. I think we lie about that. We prefer to see ourselves as principled supporters of ideas, but the reality is that we may like or loathe ideas, but we are far more passionate about the people behind them.


Rain. I worship water from the sky.

About John Swinburn

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