Scraps of Compassion

Death steals from us, leaving only shadows and memories. Those fragments of the past are wholly inadequate to replace the vibrancy lost to the endlessness of forever.

John Prine died yesterday. I never saw John Prine in concert, but I listened to his music thousands of times. And on occasion I watched videos of his live shows. He and Leonard Cohen were polar opposites in many ways, but I consider both of them poets of unmatched depth. They plumbed my emotions so completely that I considered each of them my closest friends, even though we never met. Their minds went to the same places mine goes. We conversed without speaking to one another. I read their minds. Or they read mine. John Prine’s death diminishes me in a way I cannot put into words. John Donne understood, though his poem addressed the loss brought about by the death of each person:

And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

Gloom seems to be washing over us with each passing day. The planet was sullied with the presence and power of Trump. Then the coronavirus swept across the planet. What will be the third most recent unspeakable horror, the one that will finish us? Are these plagues messages sent by Nature, urging us to abandon the planet before the planet abandons us? On the one hand, I do not for even a moment believe Nature or any unseen, all powerful being is urging  us on toward universal genocide. But on the other, I wonder about the statistical probabilities of wave after wave after wave of natural phenomena that challenge humankind’s existence. These waves have washed over us for centuries; nevertheless, we persisted. Hah. A little word play on the pointlessness of our attempts at relevance. I have tried to put a positive spin on this most recent calamity; cleaner air, clearer water, less crime, etc., etc., etc. Yet my assessment always comes back to the conclusion that Earth would be a better place without humans. Some of us claim, with great fervor, that we need to take better care of Mother Earth. The best care would be to stop destroying it through our continued presence.

So, how is it that I mourn the passing of John Prine, yet I suggest the world would be a better place if we all followed him? (Well, we all will, but I’m talking about something sooner than “eventually” after another hundred thousand generations.) I don’t know; I do not claim to be overflowing with logic this morning. Logic is not what fills my head; pain and anger and something to which I cannot attach a name clog my brain this morning. As they have many mornings of late. Not just mornings, either. Ach.

Maybe I mourn John Prine because of his humanity. He wrote “Hello in There.” That song is an ode to compassion. But it recognizes the flip side of compassion; neglect.  The lyrics tell that story; for example:

Old people just grow lonesome
Waiting for someone to say, “Hello in there, hello”


The air is mostly clear this morning. A few clouds. When will I look up,  wondering whether it’s a cloud blotting out the sun, only to see a sky filled with nuclear missiles?


Powerless. That’s how I might feel if I were to walk outside my house and see a crowd of people, each of them carrying assault rifles, chanting about the Second Amendment. But if I were to exercise my rights, under the same amendment, to brandish a nuclear weapon, I might not feel quite so impotent. What are “arms?” The right to bear arms. The etymologies of “arm” and “army” are quite similar; they are intertwined, in fact.  The Second Amendment was, from the beginning, an incomplete thought buried in a nonsensical sentence. It should be rewritten and replaced with a coherent message.



About John Swinburn

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