Sit and Listen

Another early start—even earlier than yesterday. The glowing red numbers on the bedside clock read “3:43” when I got out of bed for the second time this morning. I mistook the time as “2:11” the first time, but I missed the initial “1.” A more focused look revealed the time actually was “12:11.” Too early to start a new day, so I returned to bed. But the second awakening at “3:43” was too close to “4:00” to return to bed. So I got up, weighed myself, and went about what has become my usual morning routines: measure my blood glucose, make coffee, and encourage my computer to inundate me with information.

Like most mornings, the information this morning was largely unpleasant. Shootings. Dangerous international political posturing. Venomous reactions to noxious environmental calamities. Updates about the horrors of the latest wars and precursors to war. Terrifying results of a global climate spiraling hopelessly toward our inevitable oblivion. The usual stuff. Why I subject myself to such ugliness is beyond comprehension; yet I do. And with some regularity. On those mornings when I bypass the “news,” though, I sometimes manage to avoid the choking, poisonous layer of grim, grey, toxins that sully the emotional atmosphere. I should sidestep that suffocating gas in favor of the atmosphere several thousand feet above me. Floating silently through space, taking in fresh oxygen that fills me with a serene sense of safety and protective distance. Yeah, that’s the ticket. Distancing myself from the labyrinth. The sticky web. The clot of thick, confining rope.


I am more familiar with words that describe pain than with words that portray pleasure. That may be by choice, or it may be a function of the way my mind works. Regardless of which, certain aspects of the English language almost invisibly manipulate the way I—and all of us—view the world of which I am a part. Words mold the way we experience existence as much as, perhaps even more so than, the actual experience itself. “Pleasure” seems to have more negative connotations than does “pain.” “Pleasure” frequently is associated with acts or ideas considered coarse or vulgar. Even when those acts or ideas are neither coarse nor vulgar, but simply enjoyable or restorative or transformational. The pleasure one feels when leaping from an airplane, plummeting in free fall toward the earth below, is one such experience. There is nothing coarse or vulgar about that. Indeed, that experience can open one’s mind to a kind of joy rarely available to us as we trudge along the ground, our feet firmly affixed to the soil.

“Solitude” is a word that can summon a sense of unpleasant isolation, but it can just as easily set the stage for the euphoria of untethered freedom. Most often, though, “solitude” and “loneliness” occupy the same desolate places in the imagination. The beauty of pre-dawn solitude is majestic and awe-inspiring. But, realistically, it also can encompass the starkness of impenetrable isolation. Like everything in life, it can be slide from one end of a spectrum to the other; from darkness to light and back again.

Nothing is perfectly clear. Even transparent glass is an aberration of the idea of invisibility; it illustrates flaws in the concept of absolute “clarity.” Clear glass is at once invisible and apparent. So much of life’s experience is like that. It is “there,” but it cannot be successfully held in one’s hands. Air.  Water. Love. Happiness. Hatred. But transparent glass is different; I can hold it, yet I cannot really see it. Or can I? Do I see the glass, or do I see the effect of glass on light? Air is like that, too. So is crystal clear water. I do not see it, but I see how it transforms the way other materials behave: hair, cloth, skin. Love and happiness and hatred are invisible, too, but they change the appearance of the world around us. They either brighten or dim our perspectives. “Yellow” looks different when viewed through a lens of love, as opposed to a lens of hatred.


There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.

~ Leonard Cohen ~


I am more than 30 pounds lighter than I was at the peak of my obesity. But I am more than 30 pounds heavier than I was when, as a full-on adult, I weighed the least. That 60 pound range horrifies me. How could I allow myself to squander my health in that way? Assigning blame takes a judgmental approach to the way in which one’s emotions impact one’s actions, which in turn determine the shape and condition of one’s physical body. Accepting blame is not the same as accepting responsibility. Shame and guilt accompany blame. What accompanies responsibility? Opportunity?


The time is nearing 6:30. I will shave and shower and ready myself to join a cadre of old (mostly) men for breakfast soon. I will have little to say. I will sit and listen.

About John Swinburn

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