I walk outside and the cold air takes my breath away.  The biting wind ignores my sweatshirt and tears at me as I make that horrible transition from warm serenity to frigid chaos.  At that instant, when warmth  is stripped from me, leaving me shocked with cold, I desperately want something else.  I want to be back in my warm bed.  I want to be sipping coffee.  I want to be surrounded by people with whom I feel close and in whose presence I feel safe and welcome.  I want these things now, I don’t want them as a promise in the future, a promise that may never come to pass.

I yearn deeply for those things I will never have in this very moment.  I realize the warmth and friendship and sense of safety will never be, not now, not in this moment.  This moment will be gone, never to be retrieved, and those things I wanted so badly will never coincide with it.  They may come later, they may come again and again, but they will never inhabit this moment.  As I long so deeply for what will never be, can never be, I remember what she wrote.  I don’t recall it word for word, but I remember enough of it to know how I felt when first I read it.

I go back inside, I have to look for it.  I have to read it again.  It struck a chord with me the first time I read it, and every time since.  And I need to read it again, now.  And I find it:

We cling to things because we’re terrified of empty space. We surrounded ourselves with possessions because we feel like we need them to help us express who we are. We hold on to people because we’re afraid of being alone. We carry around our sadness because we would rather feel something than nothing. We try to fill our emptiness with whatever we can.

But sometimes that emptiness is necessary and beautiful. It’s the space left for possibility and hope. It’s what keeps us striving and searching and wondering. It’s what spurs us on.

My wish is a fantasy. There is no such safe place. There are no such welcoming people. There is only my interpretation of the world and its inhabitants.  There is only my perception.   Some days, like today, when the elements conspire with circumstance and with my state of mind to make me think deeply about what is and what is not, I am afraid and alone and wishing my fantasies were real.  But simultaneously, I am grateful to be jarred from my insular thinking and forced to examine life for what it is and what it can be.

A flood of thoughts and emotions and questions wash over me.  Why do I so often feel angry—at myself, at the world around me, and at the people who inhabit the world around me?  And I wonder, what is it?  What IS it?  I’ve found the answer before, only to allow it to be buried under the detritus day-to-day living.  Well, it may not be the answer, but it’s an answer.

Maybe I would rather feel something than nothing.  But maybe nothing is really what I’m after.  Take away the detritus and maybe, just maybe, there’s an opportunity for a clean slate, a chance to build something beautiful.  It is, after all, just about perception.

About John Swinburn

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