Old Medicine

Not long ago, I started walking again most mornings when temperatures and humidity levels have been low enough for outdoor jaunts to be tolerable. As relatively flat as I thought my new neighborhood was, realty has taught me otherwise. Compared to the old neighborhood in the Village, this one is flat; but compared to my old neighborhood in Dallas, walking this one can be akin to strolling through the Appalachians with a fifty-pound pack strapped to my back.  The relative paucity of truly “flat” areas notwithstanding, I am beginning to enjoy my morning walks, as short as they are. This morning’s stroll was just a tad more than one mile, a laughably short walk to most people, I am sure. To me, though, a mile represents an achievement after being so sedentary for so long. It’s not that I did not want to walk; it’s that I had no stamina and was quickly out of breath after only a relatively few steps. When I began my short walks no long ago, my stamina was as low as it has ever been, but in short order it has improved measurably. I still get winded quickly and easily, but not quite as quickly and easily as had been the case. I am determined to recover as much of my stamina as possible; I have places to go and things to do.


Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.

~ Epicurus ~

At its most fundamental, wabi-sabi is the Japanese art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in nature. The concept celebrates the appeal of the old and deeply worn as opposed to the new and untouched. It goes beyond “things,” though. It is embedded, for example, in the emotional appeal of a plain, white, mass-produced ceramic cup—an allure that outweighs the attraction of a one-of-a-kind hand-made mug adorned with brilliantly-colored glazes. One’s fascination with the plain white cup does not mean the hand-made mug is not attractive; it means only that the story behind the plain white cup, even in its mass-produced simplicity, is deeper and more powerful.

Wabi-sabi is on my mind this morning as I contemplate mi novia’s gentle mockery of my insistence on drinking my coffee out of that plain white cup. I choose my plain white Vortex brand cup, mass-produced for the hotel and hospitality industry, despite the fact that I have a collection of more than eighty colorful mugs that represent many places I have visited over the years. I could excuse my selection of the plain white cup by pointing out that the mug collection remains boxed because there’s no wall in the house sufficiently long to hang the mug rack. But that excuse would be false. No, I choose to continue using the white cup because it continues, even after so much time has passed, to take me back to a time in my life when everything was different. I was a different person then. I lived in a different house. My concerns about life were different. So, in my circumstances, the cup celebrates the appeal of another time that deeply etched itself into my psyche. There’s much more, of course; as silly as it may seem, it sometimes helps me get through memories that would otherwise be even more difficult. It represents stability in a time when everything else in life seems unstable.

Wabi-sabi. Beauty in imperfection. Profundity in nature. I suspect wabi-sabi is responsible for the attachment many people have to antiques. Or for the idea of buying and restoring an old car, the model a parent or spouse once drove. Or for holding onto and displaying one’s childhood toys. Or for repairing the broken toaster instead of buying a new one at a fraction of the cost. Or for refusing to have a monstrous old lightning-damaged oak tree cut down and hauled away. Wabi-sabi also can help explain the strong emotional attachment people have to old furniture that has lived long past its usefulness or pots and pans that look decrepit and allow food to stick. Memories are embedded in the stuff; whether they are used or not, their presence is medicinal.


The words of wise people, when taken alone, can be truly insightful and thought-provoking. Taken in concert with the words of other people we assume were awash in wisdom, they can be both thought-provoking and unsettling; confusing and painful to attempt to understand. Take, for example, the following:

He that lives upon hope will die fasting.

~ Benjamin Franklin ~


Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.

~ Albert Einstein ~


I simply can’t build my hopes on a foundation of confusion, misery and death… I think… peace and tranquility will return again.

~ Anne Frank ~

It is for that reason that, as much value as I find in contemplating the words of other people, I am firmly ensconced in the belief that we must think for ourselves. We can listen and learn from others, but we cannot allow them to think for us nor to speak our minds; only we can do that.

I refuse cede my obligation to think to Rachel Maddow, no matter her level of intellect and outright brilliance. Though she and I share many social and political perspectives, I refuse to abdicate my responsibility to think for myself, allowing her to be my mouthpiece. I have perspectives both far more progressive or liberal than hers and far more conservative. Similarly, I will not permit my friends’ and acquaintances’ collective condemnation of every word spoken by Fox News hosts to take up residence in my own brain; the usual stupidity of Fox News hosts notwithstanding. Fox News anchors can occasionally have, or at least espouse, valid points. Automatically accepting the positions taken by Rachel Maddow or automatically rejecting those espoused by Sean Hannity is an unhealthy and unthinking response to propaganda, pure and simple. Such automatic acceptance is evidence that a person is either unable or unwilling to think for himself/herself. Though I personally have been guilty of such automatic acceptance, I find it contemptible and shameful. Whenever I realize I have done what I admonish others to avoid, I suffer deep embarrassment. I wish others would suffer the same when/if they realize they, too, are behaving like faithful servants instead of independent equals.


Last night’s marathon viewing of Nine Perfect Strangers enhanced my appreciation for the series. The fact that it is on Hulu and, therefore, is laced with an enormous volume of commercials, detracts from the story, though. I understand the need for entertainment companies to earn money and I realize the economic models they follow may require change over time, but interrupting good television/film with commercials is an abomination unto me. If and when Netflix begins showing commercials in the middle of programming, I will seek another source. I would be willing to pay more just so I could avoid watching “Flo” of the Progressive Insurance (that is the advertiser, right?) television commercials grow older and less visually/intellectually appealing by the day.


It’s damn near 8, time for a shower and a shave. But first, perhaps, some breakfast.


About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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One Response to Old Medicine

  1. Mick says:

    Congrats! Each journey begins with a single step. How many steps in the mile you just walked? A worthy accomplishment indeed.

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