Memories and Wonder

Sometime later this month, we will drive to Dayton, Ohio. Unless we opt to travel the back roads—which is entirely possible—our eleven-hour trip will take us to Memphis, Nashville, Bowling Green, Louisville, and Cincinnati. Even keeping on main highways, we might decide to skirt around Memphis and avoid Nashville and Bowling Green altogether. Regardless of the route, the trip will help assuage my thirst for spending time on the open road.

There was a time when, for almost eight years, I was deeply enmeshed in the the world of entertainment and sports venues. Then, I would have known the managers of virtually all the major venues along the most direct route. I would have felt obliged to stop along the way in Memphis and Nashville and Louisville, etc. to visit briefly with as many of those people as possible. Twenty-five years later, though, many of the venue executives I knew probably have retired. Those remaining might no longer remember me. And that part of my life is bittersweet history, now, anyway; I will not take any detours for the purpose of attempting to visit people who have forgotten me. The only distractions along the way will be attractions that capture my attention and interest; professional business obligations will play no part in the itinerary.  I look forward to the trip.


Day before yesterday, a woman I know—someone with whom I used to spend considerable time when both of us were involved in a local writing club—made a rare appearance at my church. During our brief conversation after the church service, she told me her husband had recently been diagnosed with terminal, incurable, stage 4 neuroendoctrine cancer. She said the two of them, during the two months they have known of the diagnosis, have come to grips with what is facing them. In thinking about what they are going through, I wondered how I might have reacted to my late wife’s prognosis had I been told about it several months before her death, rather than assuming and believing her condition would, eventually, improve. I learned that she had only days left only a short time before she died, though I had begun to believe a couple of months earlier that her condition might never get better. But I was advised of the need for hospice care less than two weeks before her death. I am not sure I would have been as resilient as my writer acquaintance seems to be. No, that is not true. I am sure I would not have been so stoic and capable of withstanding the heartbreak and stress for so long. Ach. Life can be impossibly hard.


When, in my early twenties, I worked for a few months in a prison environment, I rarely encountered the raw brutality of prison life I see reflected in television and film. Perhaps that is because the prisons I visited for my job were managed in such a way as to scare inmates into behaving well. Or perhaps I simply did not see the ugly underbelly of those prison facilities. Or, maybe, the populations of the units I entered tended to be people who were not disposed to be monsters. Whatever the reasons, I rarely saw unrestrained contempt for others in the places I visited…except for a unit in which the inmates were “young offenders.” Almost immediately upon entering the unit, I saw and heard people for whom I immediately felt utter contempt. They were mannerless, brutal, ugly, unreservedly bad behaving beasts. I wonder whether people in my social sphere, if suddenly rounded up and locked in a prison environment, would turn into bullies and compassionless animals or whether, due to their upbringing and life experiences and mindsets, they would remain relatively decent, innocuous human beings? I am satisfied to wonder about, rather than witness, that reality.


El inocente, the Spanish series we have been watching recently, shows some absolutely horrific, grisly, deeply disturbing scenes. Usually, I am not offended by what I consider over-the-top violence or gore in film, but I seriously question the need to show such monstrous stuff as I saw on the television last night. That notwithstanding, the show remains engaging. As I try to imagine it without the horrors, though, I think the program might not be as impactful, intellectually, as it has been. The absolute and utter absence of human decency illustrated through those hard-to-watch scenes may have been impossible to communicate without them. I may need an infusion of touching, feel-good entertainment before long, though, to give me back some of the serenity those scenes have taken from me.


Years are slipping by with far greater speed than in the past, reducing my perception of the amount of available time to decide what to do next. Spending as much time as I like mulling over where to live, what to do, where to go, etc., etc. is a luxury I no longer feel I can afford. I feel an urgency to do something, make quick decisions, take action, move, move, move! In ten years, if I last that long, I will be nearing 80 years old. Ten years once was a long, long time. That amount of time was more than enough to make plans for the future. But today, ten years is the blink of an eye. The future and now are synonymous. If I want to live in a house with a pool “one day,” or if I want to wander aimlessly around North America “some day,” or if I want to “eventually” take some sort of startling action, I need to recognize the merger between some point in the future and this very moment. Perhaps this swelling sense of urgency is responsible for my growing misgivings about commitments I have made that will demand more and more of my time, energy, and effort. I put off until some later time making decisions that would free me of those commitments, all the while realizing “later” is a fiction I create in my own mind.

I wish I could sever my connections with the past and the present and exist only in the future. But, then, I think that is exactly what I am doing…in slow motion. That motion is getting slower and slower—as if I were wading through a lake of rapidly-cooling black-strap molasses—at the same time I am being propelled at breakneck speed toward an enormous, solid, immoveable wall. This train of thought is intense and immeasurably complex, and probably utterly insane. It is confusion, multiplied a million times and then tripled.


I did not drive to Little Rock yesterday. I plan to do that today. To pick up my shirt and go to Costco. Both errands run diametrically counter to thoughts of the future. They are self-imposed roadblocks to forward motion. I imagine the hands of a clock, as they move clockwise toward 12, encountering resistance. The left side of the clock’s face begins to wrinkle, each wrinkle overlapping the one in front of it, until the entire clock face is jammed up, approaching the top. The hands keep trying to move, but the crumpled face of the clock prevents forward motion. Finally, the clock’s hands and face and time itself freeze. Everything stops.


Another medical appointment today, another checkup. Ach!

About John Swinburn

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