If you would take, you must first give, this is the beginning of intelligence.

~ Lao Tzu ~

Every moment is both beginning and end. Each instance of the smallest measure of time launches a new experience; at the same time another tiny measure of time comes to its conclusion and, along with it, the component of the experience it presented. It occurs to me that most people ignore those tiny fragments of Time—like seconds or minutes or hours or even days—in favor of Time’s larger assemblages. I assume that is because so many processes that enrich our lives—or that bedevil them—require longer segments of Time to come to fruition. But without those miniscule fragments of Time, the larger agglomeration of moments could never become the stuff of full experiences. Lacking those fleeting moments, memorable experiences would never happen.

A paragraph has a beginning and an end. In the same way, each word in a paragraph has a starting point and a conclusion. The experiences of our lives—and the experience of Life—is comparable. Our Lives are anthologies of experiences, comprising words and paragraphs and pages and chapters and books and book series…and even long series of books. Another way to compare Life to the components of simply living is this: Life is like the entire set of the Encyclopedia Britannica and the moments that make Life are like letters.

Now, with all of this convoluted philosophical background aside, I will say it more clearly: people tend to treat life as if only its “memorable moments” matter. Birth. Graduation. Marriage. Childbirth. Employment. Blah. Blah. Blah. If we could persuade ourselves to invest the same emotional energy in each moment that we invest in these so-called milestone events, our lives could be and most likely would be dramatically more joyous. Conversely, the sad, stressful, traumatic elements of our lives might be exponentially harder to experience: Death. Life-threatening Illness. Loss of Spouse. Divorce. Job Loss. Miscarriage. But wouldn’t an almost constant sense of awe and joy and deep, endless appreciation make those inevitable horrors moderately more tolerable?

My mind is meandering this morning. I am trying to attach ideas to experiences and I am attempting to think through a method of making my life, and the lives of all I touch, more valuable and generally better. That’s a tall order, of course. But if I were not alone in pursuing an absurdly big but enormously attractive goal, maybe its attainment would be far more likely. We’re all just letters in words, but we can be pages in the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Yesterday, as I stood next to my car, filling its tank with gas, I noticed a man at a nearby pump, also filling his tank with gas. A heavy breeze and very cool temperatures made me a bit uncomfortable, wearing only a sweatshirt. The man was wearing a coat that I think may have been a Carhartt brand (they have a certain “look”).  I commented to him, “That looks like the kind of coat you need on a day like today.” He took a moment before acknowledging my comment; he may not have realized I was speaking to him, as his back was toward me. Finally, he said, “Yeah, especially with a wind like this.” I nodded, and said “Nice coat.” And that was it. He finished filling his tank and he drove away. But I thought to myself that this brief and essentially meaningless interaction filled my mind with more value than had I spent those few moments simply staring into space. I had to exercise my brain enough to form thoughts, make words, direct those words to another person, and listen to and respond to the reply. For just a moment, I felt so grateful for just recognizing the incredible magic of that experience. Two old men, engaging about the warmth and comfort of a coat: meaningless but enormously representative of the vast majority of our moments. They mean nothing, but without them there can be no others. Therefore each moment is precious beyond measure. I wish I could find a way to ensure that I recognize that every instant.


Yesterday morning, after Zoom church, and early afternoon, I scrubbed the floors in the space behind the garage in preparation for today’s flooring installation. After I scrubbed the floors, we took a drive to visit a friend who’s camping for a few days at a campground on Lake Ouachita, less than half an hour from here. We sat in her 30-foot RV (maybe it’s even bigger?), both its slide-outs fully open. It has plenty of room for her, her four dogs, and two guests (it could easily accommodate more). It was nice to sit and talk, with no obligation to “do” anything. Just engage. That’s so comfortable, so relaxing, so extremely comforting. I suppose that’s one of the reasons people like to go RVing. I’ve never been, so it’s only supposition, but that seems like one of the appeals. After setting up in an RV campground, there’s not much one has in the way of obligations: one does only what one WANTS to do, not what one must. Well, not all the time. With a view of the lake a short distance away, the shade of tall trees, and the quiet of a relatively sparsely-populated campground, she had a nice spot. Every time I get near an RV, I start thinking again about getting one and doing some traveling. But the paucity of money, among other things, keeps getting in the way. And the responsibility for upkeep and storage and the pre- and post-trip prep. But I could get used to that. Couldn’t I? I know this: I would want an RV I can drive, not a trailer to pull behind me. I am allergic to trailers. Unless they come with a professionally trained driver for the pulling vehicle, someone who is invisible but highly engaged with RV responsibilities at all times. I don’t think they sell such trailers. Isn’t it nice to mull over the possibility, though? If one has an active imagination, one can have anything his heart desires. In his head, anyway.


My arthritic wrists, fingers, knees, elbows, hips, and ankles are annoying. But at least they work reasonably well. I should exercise them all more frequently, though. Exercise is a good thing, I’m told. I’ve always equated exercise with exorcism, though, so I’ve tended to stay away from it. I need to retrain my mind to live in the real world; in the here and now. But wouldn’t that negate the effect of an active imagination? These are hard questions with no easy answers. I’ll keep asking them, though, until the answers are both easy and make rational sense.


I need more coffee. I got up very late this morning, right around 6, so I’m automatically cranky. When I stay in bed too long, I arise as a rather surly curmudgeon, whereas I get up feeling happy and generous and overflowing with goodwill and smiles when I get up at my regular, early times. Seriously. I’m far better if I get up at 4 than if I finally get out of bed at 6. Getting up late makes me feel like I’ve frittered away a significant portion of the day, a portion of the day I’ll never get back. A series of moments I’ll never experience in a state of consciousness. That, my friends, is cause for never-ending sadness and perpetual mourning.  That’s my nugget of truth for the day. That, and this: I really need more coffee.

About John Swinburn

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