No Legitimate Complaints

Yesterday, I painted the laundry room in my current home. Today, I will finish that job with some touch-ups and will tackle the big “bonus area” behind the garage. I should have painted both rooms years ago; I intended to do just that, but time got away from me. Now that I am about to put my house on the market, I want it to be as fresh and inviting as it was to me when I first saw it. The “bonus area” has already been refreshed with a new LVP floor. New—lighter—paint, along with removing the “junk” from the room will complete the task. That room, with its own separate HVAC system and a half-bath, is like a private retreat. I used it as my retreat from the world many times. I sat at one of the big counters overlooking the forest and valley below, watching clouds and the world go by and soaking in the scent of burning patchouli incense. Perhaps I’ll burn some incense today while I paint. I expect to hear from a real estate agent today. I expect to put my house on the market within a week or two. The “new” house will get a thorough cleaning today, now that the flooring and door work is complete; mi novia found a couple who does top-to-bottom house cleaning. Listening to these women talk, it is apparent they understand what we want and they know how to address our expectations. Once the house is clean, we can begin moving “stuff” over there. We’ll find a way take some of our furniture over there so the current house will not look cluttered with the contents of two complete households when I put it on the market. The end of this much-longer-than-I-ever-dreamed odyssey is in sight.

The tension in my arms and legs and back has reached the point of physical pain. I need this process to end so I can relax and regain my ability to “chill.” Once the current house sells and we’re settled in our new place, I may treat myself to a full-body massage by a professional; something that might drain the tightness and tenseness from my body. Even before that, I want to chew a gummy or inhale the vapors of burning medical marijuana, and sit out on my deck with a friend. We will unwind with a glass of wine. We’ll discuss our philosophies of life and living and we’ll laugh as the effects of the experience overtake us. I hope that will make the next phases of this transition more palatable; more tolerable.


Almost seven years ago, I wrote a semi-autobiographical piece of fiction that approached the idea of shaving my head. I have never shaved my head, but I’ve thought about it. If not for the possibility that my hair hides a hideous set of bumps, ridges, scars, etc., I might have done the deed by now. Actually, it’s not the possibility that my appearance could be made worse by denuding my scalp; it’s the likelihood of others’ reactions to my cranial nudity. Even though they may not say it aloud, at least not within earshot, people around me might find my naked head an affront to their visual senses. I know; I’ve said a thousand times that others’ opinions about me should not guide my actions. And I’ve repeated many times the fundamental truth espoused by Eleanor Roosevelt, who said: You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do. But, still, I worry. It’s either vanity or something like it; maybe a type of fear that erupts on occasion from narcissism. I should recognize that, even if I were shave my head and it revealed a hideous appearance underneath, hair grows back; it recovers from even the most egregious treatment. Except when it doesn’t.

My late wife was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003. She had a total mastectomy of her right breast; no reconstructive surgery. The follow-up treatment for her cancer included massive doses of chemotherapy. She was told she would lose her hair, but that it would grow back just as thick as it had been; perhaps it would initially look different, but it would return to “normal” after a relatively short while. It grew back, but much, much thinner. It never returned to “normal.” Her scalp was always visible beneath the wisps of fine hair that returned. And her delicate head of hair continued to gradually thin for he next seventeen years. At first, she wore a wig. But after just a few months, she courageously abandoned it. She decided the stares of strangers and the forced disregard of her appearance by friends was more tolerable than the discomfort of wearing a wig. In so many ways, she was much stronger than I have ever been.

With that departure from my train of thought behind me, I return to the idea of intentionally becoming bald. As I consider the possibility, I wonder why I keep thinking of shaving my head. What possesses me to consider taking a razor to my scalp? Is it curiosity about what I would look like? Is it a matter of comfort? Ease of care? I answer in the affirmative; each question addresses part of the motive I have for thinking about attacking my scalp with a sharp razor. But I think there’s something else; something I cannot quite identify and articulate. Maybe it’s a reaction to the fact that I did not shave my head when my wife first realized her hair was not growing back as “normal.” Maybe my failure to even think about it then finally began to catch up with me. And it’s still attempting to measure my lack of bravery against her courage. The idea of shaving my head in solidarity with my wife did not occur to me until years after her mastectomy surgery. And then, when it did, I did nothing about it. And, still, I do nothing but think about it. Maybe that’s the “something I cannot quite identify and articulate.”

The sense that one is inadequate as a human being is a painful possibility to have rattling around in one’s head. It slams against all corners the brain, tearing at the diaphanous fibers that define one’s worth, Those thin fibers grow like hair, but much more slowly. They are nourished by behaviors and by thoughts. They feed on acts of compassion and kindness. They strengthen when fed a diet of ideas that surround them with the stuff of human decency. But they can be twisted and torn. They can burn in the flames of anger and they can smolder in the heat of mindless reactions to life’s little disappointments.  When those fibers are damaged or burned away, it takes a lifetime to repair or replace them. Unlike hair, that usually grows back, damage to one’s sense of worth can be slow to heal. That kind of damage can be irreparable. Even when repaired, the scars remain. They may not be visible, but they are there; thick and distorted like physical scars on the flesh.


My complaints amount to nothing. I have nothing of substance to complain about. My life is easy compared to the lives of billions of others on this planet. I live a life that is filled with largess. My every need is met. I have more than enough to eat. I have a roof over my head. I am not the intended prey of wild animals, nor am I the target of assassins. Where do any of us get off complaining about slow service or excessive costs for luxury items? We might have legitimate complaints if people with guns were invading our homes. Or if all the shelves in grocery stores were empty. Or if all farmers’ fields were fallow. Etc., etc. But at the moment, we live in undeserved luxury, our every need and want easily met. Appreciation and gratitude should be our watchwords. Should be. Should be. Yes.


Enough of this. Time to explore what the day offers. And offer the day my best efforts.

About John Swinburn

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