Kolbjørn’s Return and The Ambiguity of Time

Sadness gives depth. Happiness gives height. Sadness gives roots. Happiness gives branches. Happiness is like a tree going into the sky, and sadness is like the roots going down into the womb of the earth. Both are needed, and the higher a tree goes, the deeper it goes, simultaneously. The bigger the tree, the bigger will be its roots. In fact, it is always in proportion. That’s its balance.

~ Osho ~


This morning, I sense that I am feeling around blindly, reaching for the branches, trying to stretch past the edge of the sky into the heart of the galaxy beyond. Yet I cannot get loose from the roots wrapped around my ankles, preventing me from shuffling off the mortal coil that straps me to my consciousness. I suppose that’s what a celebration of a break in time does to one. We shed an aching, angry, painful, distasteful old year and attempt to capture a new one, full of promise and potential. That break in time is artificial, of course, but we make it real by our behaviors. We transform fantasy into reality simply by accepting an imaginary tear in the fabric of time as a real rupture; something that allows us to burst free of an atmosphere full of noxious gases into an environment that is pure and clean and unchained to misery.


I think I need to retreat into a protective fictional cocoon; just enough fact to confuse me into believing it’s real.

Kolbjørn Landvik, my imaginary ancestor who is related to me through DNA transported over time (and through the consumption of a vegetable broth, if memory serves), is back. He’s somewhere in my head, dreaming about the beauty of the Norwegian coastline of more than one hundred years ago. It’s tragic, really, that he died at sea—a rope attached to an anchor got wrapped around his ankle and dragged him to a watery death. At least that’s how I remember it. Though he was alone in the boat, I was there with him when he was pulled overboard by that impossibly heavy piece of seafaring iron. But that was a long time ago, even before I became convinced that he and I were blood relations.

My own DNA test results suggest my relationship with Kolbjørn Landvik is and was all in my head. The test hints that my genetic relationship to Kolbjørn is an artifact of my overactive imagination, augmented by strong coffee and a desire to be free of this godforsaken wasteland of a planet on which I live. It’s not the planet, though. It’s the people who inhabit it. Many of them are decent, good, compassionate souls who represent the very best of the human race. The others, though…the human equivalent of demented vultures with rabies. But I digress.

Yet DNA tests have been wrong before. Haven’t they? Are the tests wrong, or might the DNA samples been mishandled? Or were they contaminated? Or, perhaps, were my DNA samples accidentally switched with someone else’s…too damn many possibilities. Ach! I could simply acknowledge the hideously strong likelihood that I am, at my core, of almost pure English descent, with nary a cell of Scandinavian blood in me. That reality advances the theory that I am thoroughly and utterly insane. That’s alright. I can live with madness. I always have, haven’t I?


Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.

~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow ~


My fiftieth high school reunion, if there is to be one, will be held in 2022. I have not attended any of the reunions thus far. Not ten years, twenty years, thirty years, nor forty years. I had envisioned that I would attend the fiftieth, though. I’m not sure why I looked forward to it. I have absolutely no close connections to anyone from my high school days. Even the distant, tenuous connections I have are through Facebook pages. And while I cannot rely on Facebook to give me reliable information concerning people about whom I cared little during high school and even less now, it gives me clues. And the clues tell me most of my high school cohorts are deeply conservative people (plenty of Trumpers, I’ve discovered) who measure human value with financial accomplishments. Why in God’s name would I want to plunge into that cesspool? No, I think I’ll forego the fiftieth reunion, too, if they hold it. I suspect many—perhaps most—who attend have refused COVID vaccinations and refuse to wear masks.


Leonard Cohen’s fourth studio album was entitled New Skin for the Old Ceremony.  Years later, he released an album called The Future. Until this morning, I had never quite made the connection between them. Coming across the Rumi quote, below, I began to see the connection. Or, perhaps, I’m just making up a connection where none exists. But I choose to think Cohen intentionally expressed that connection in albums almost twenty years apart. Am I alone in seeing the tune, Anthem, as a future “new skin for the old ceremony” in the form of a restatement of Rumi’s words?

The wound is the place where the light enters you.

~ Rumi ~

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

~Leonard Cohen ~


Finally, the last day of 2021 has arrived. As I pondered what to write this morning, I looked back at what I wrote on this day in 2020. My post on that day was very, very long. It was a mixture of chit-chat about my experiences the day before and my plans for the day after, along with a smattering of unrelated ruminations. Last year on this day, my wife’s death twelve days earlier consumed my every thought. But I tried to write as if that fact was not on my mind. I remember writing that post, intentionally expressing happiness and joy in place of what I really felt.

This final day of another year is better in many ways than last year. My IC is here, which emphasizes the fact that I am the beneficiary of extremely good fortune. But COVID remains rampant worldwide and seems to be getting worse. And political and social divides seem to be reaching a point at which our society could violently explode. We humans have had many, many thousands of years to perfect societal harmony, yet we seem to have spent those years planning for and perfecting the means of implementing society’s ultimate collapse.


In spite of the fact that I’ve used this post to expel some ugly thoughts and nasty ideas, deep inside me I am optimistic. We can overcome the challenges we face, both those manufactured by our own hand and those forced on us by Mother Nature. All we have to do it give it our best and help everyone around us do the same.

I wish every person who reads this post a year in which joy overwhelms sorrow. May 2022 be a year that brings happiness, good health, and prosperity to you and yours and everyone else on Earth, the only planet ready and able to sustain us.

About John Swinburn

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