Shaped by Circumstance

This morning, it seems I awoke to a different climate or, at least, a different season. Last night’s thunder and lightning signaled the change. This morning’s reality illustrated it in dense fog and warming air. According to my live-in girlfriend, Alexa, today’s high temperature may reach 75 degrees. Her assertion is generally supported, if only in direction if not in specifics, by my computer’s weather widgets; they claim the high will not quite touch 70. The widgets also say a dense fog advisory was issued this morning at 6:18 and will be in effect until 9:00. I assume that is when Zeus and Thor will each take a deep breath, lifting the fog. Apparently, though, they will not chase all the clouds from the sky; we can expect occasional thunderstorms in the morning and a few showers in the afternoon.

I rarely watch the weather report components of local television news because, try as they might, the meteorologists and weather-readers do not satisfy my desire for interesting weather forecasts. I’m not suggesting the weather itself must be interesting (though it always is). I’d like the forecasters’ delivery to be more interesting to someone like me—someone with a slightly off-kilter sense of humor. I would like to hear them blame Zeus and Thor for the weather. And I want them to tell stories about the influence on the day’s weather by Guabancex, the supreme storm deity of the Taino people; they were located across Florida and environs and in places like Puerto Rico. Hearing the forecasters talk, I might learn how to pronounce Guabancex.


The reality of my calendar is that it’s mostly empty. But I allow its brief intrusions into an otherwise obligation-free plan for the passage of a week’s time to cause me anxiety or something like it.

My calendar for the week does not provide the open, freeing landscape I crave. Commitments and obligations and reminders dot the days and hours, though Wednesday and Friday look refreshingly empty for now. Today and tomorrow and Thursday are not jam-packed, but short commitments split the day into pre- and post- segments, mostly segments of my own making. Today, for example, I am committed to changing the HVAC filters, a task that might take fifteen minutes from start to finish, including disposal of the used filters. But the fact that it’s on the calendar restricts my freedom to do something else during that fifteen-minute period. And I have calendared a call to the Social Security Administration to ask questions and to Home Instead to inquire where a promised refund check might be. These little things interrupt my desire for an extended period of uninterrupted serenity. My attitude about calendars probably reflects some form of mental deviance that could be readily addressed with the proper treatment. But I’d have to schedule it and that would be yet another interruption.


If my mental state could be displayed on a monitor—an electroencephalogram monitor, perhaps—I think the display would show a series of jagged lines. The height of the peaks would be short and irregular and the valleys would drop off the edges of the monitor, becoming invisible for a time. Between them, the lines would fluctuate wildly, suggesting the power to the device was switching on and off with lightning speed.

I think those jagged lines have always existed; they are just more pronounced lately. In an ideal world, I might be able to compare the output of my electroencephalography to that of others. I could see evidence of  similarities and differences between me and people around me. Hah! We could compare ourselves by getting reports of psychometric assessments that wouldn’t require brainwave monitoring. I sometimes usually make things more complex than they need to be.


Without church, the extent of my social engagement largely would be limited to two neighbor couples, a few physically distant friends, and an occasional phone and/or Zoom call with members of my family. That is, my social interaction would be much like it has been for most of my adult life; limited to people in a very small circle. Late in life, though, improbably stumbling upon a church that was not only tolerable but attractive expanded my social sphere exponentially. Suddenly, I was surrounded by inquisitive, intelligent, friendly, compassionate people whose attitudes and ideas were, unlike any groups of people to which I have been connected before, compatible with mine. That is not to say we’re in lock-step; only that we’re sufficiently tolerant, curious, and open to different perspectives to enable us to communicate and disagree and argue civilly. If I had encountered such openness and intellect in my earlier years, who knows how radically different a person I might have become?


Since my wife’s illness manifested itself in mid-July, people from my neighborhood and from my church have rallied around me. The compassion they have shown has been exceptional. People have kept in touch with me, have visited me, and have generally tried to show me they care. And I appreciate that very much. But, thanks to the way my brain is wired, I lately have wondered how my life might be different now if my wife had not been ill. She and I would have spent most of our time at home during the pandemic. The visits and expressions of care would have been unnecessary and, therefore, probably would not have taken place. Would I have reached out to people during that time, attempting to stay in touch to show that I care? Probably only in the event someone was ill or obviously could use a display of affection and/or compassion. Ideally, I would not need to hear of someone’s misfortune to trigger compassionate behavior toward them. It should not take such challenges to give me reason to reach out to others. Unfortunately, I think it takes misfortune to provide an opening to display affection that otherwise might be awkward and misinterpreted. Without a misfortune to provide the “legitimate” reason to reach out, we (that probably should be “I”) tend to keep a safe distance. I hope I can overcome that self-imposed limitation. I hope I have learned to try to overcome my discomfort at the awkwardness of reaching out without a “reason.” Maybe I have been changed by circumstances. No doubt, actually. I have been shaped by circumstance; now, it’s a question of maintaining that shape.


I delayed getting up this morning until 6:00. That delay robbed me of at least an hour of otherwise productive time. It’s nearing 8:00. Madness! And I still haven’t showered and shaved. Time’s wasting.

About John Swinburn

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