Revocation of Poetic License

Emotions, both positive and negative, probably take a toll on both the body and the mind. The mental peaks and valleys emotions carve into one’s life experiences leave behind a kind of rubble that cannot be left behind or discarded. That rubble stays with a person, as if it were an enormous bag of rocks; “baggage” that seems to grow heavier over time. All the while, the strength of the body and the mind dwindle, a natural response to the cycle of life. We may not recognize that our growing weariness is the result of years of emotional turmoil; but the evidence is there, just waiting for a clear-eyed assessment.

Sometimes I wonder whether the highs and lows of joy and sorrow are worth the subsequent experience of weariness and physical decay and mental deterioration. What if, I wonder, we could abandon emotion entirely? Would the result be greater physical strength and stamina? Would we experience greater and longer-lasting mental acuity? The arguments against erasing emotions, of course, would point to the dullness of existence in the absence of the highs and lows of emotion. But those arguments, themselves, are emotional reactions to circumstances few people have ever experienced.

I suppose the idea of erasing emotions is the natural outcome of emotional pain; the wish for it to end. Reality, though, tells us that emotions cannot be abandoned. They can only be appreciated or endured. They can end for us only at the end of our lives because emotions and inextricably intertwined with life. Life itself is wearying.


Optimism. Realism. Pessimism. Three points on the worldview spectrum, perhaps. Or, they may be three conditions that arise in response to specific sets of circumstances. Dictionaries attempt to “quantify,” with words, ideas that may be properly understood only through experience. “Hot,” “cold,” and “happy” can be defined/quantified by relying on other, more descriptive, words—but only by experiencing the conditions they are intended to describe does a person truly understand their meaning.


When I was younger, I had far more confidence than my abilities warranted. That confidence was never more evident than during job interviews or “pitches” I made to secure clients. Whether I had experience in an area of inquiry or not, I claimed capability; my rationale was based on my confidence that I could learn/do anything to which I dedicated myself. And that was, by and large, true. I knew my limits, of course. If I had been asked whether I could perform a heart transplant, I would have admitted that I could not—at least not immediately, until I had the opportunity to learn and practice. I was far more confident in my capabilities in those days. Maybe my confidence was an expression of arrogance; whatever it was, when I said I could do something, I felt certain I could do it, whether or not I had any experience whatsoever. That confidence/arrogance was largely responsible for my success in getting jobs and securing clients. Once I got the job, or when the client signed the contract, I dedicated myself to learning what I needed to learn or doing what I needed to do to perform as promised. My now-rusty knowledge of how to prepare and how to interpret not-for-profit financial statements came from one such incidence. During the interview process for a job, I claimed I had the necessary abilities to manage sophisticated finances and create/interpret relatively complex financial statements. Immediately after I was hired, I spent my evenings teaching myself the nuts and bolts of not-for-profit financial management. My success in learning and then doing it served me well later, when I had to use that knowledge on a daily basis to manage client finances.

Today, my confidence in myself is not as great. But the level of confidence I have in myself is contagious; it was when I was highly self-confident and it is now. Now, though, even when I feel confident in my ability to do or learn something, those around me do not always share my confidence. I suspect that is because I unintentionally send signals that suggest I am not certain of my abilities. Or, perhaps, it is because others may see something I do not. When these thoughts arise about my abilities, my confidence, and the possible discrepancies between them, I think about the point at which elderly people must relinquish their car keys. They may be absolutely confident in their ability to safely drive their cars; those around them, though, may recognize the diminution of the elderly person’s reaction time, depth perception, etc. At what point, if ever, do we “know” we are no longer the person we once were?


In roughly two and one half hours, I will step inside my church for a “run-through” of tomorrow’s insight service, which will involve several people (including me) reading poetry. When I compare the poem I wrote for tomorrow’s program to the poems I have written in the past, I wonder whether certain of my “talents” have begun, in earnest, to decay. Like the aging driver, I may be at the point of needed to relinquish my poetic license. It does not matter. I will read the new poem, regardless, and I will try to enjoy the experience. In the meantime, I will make another cup of coffee and read something uplifting, if I can find something that fits the bill.

About John Swinburn

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