Sitting With You

Imagine, if you will, you and me sitting together on a worn wooden bench in a secluded area of a park-like setting. Miles from the nearest town, we are alone. This oasis is ours, alone. Only the glimpse of a deer darting into the underbrush in the distance or a bird silently slicing through the sky reveal the existence of any other creatures. It is just us. Sunlight drenches our shoulders in warmth and a gentle breeze caresses us with its soft touch. Aromas of wildflowers fill the air. We look into each other’s eyes, hoping to learn something about life. But when our eyes meet, we hold one another’s gazes only briefly. We’ve been taught, if only accidentally, that looking into another person’s eyes is permitted only between lovers, so we look away, but our gazes always connect again. Yet we keep looking away. Because we are not lovers. We proclaim our belief in universal love, yet we are not lovers. Ach! That is a conversation for another time.

Now imagine me transforming into a person you loathe. Hold onto whatever emotion held you while you and I glanced at one another. But now you see someone else sitting next to you. A person you despise. Yet you attach “my” emotion to that person.  Whether it is love or tolerance or simply friendly acceptance; you now feel something different about that “enemy” of yours.

Now, instruct your imagination to change that enemy into someone with whom you have an intimate relationship. But hold on to the emotional framework which began when you and I sat together. No longer do you feel the comfortable intimacy with that person. Instead, you feel the awkwardness you felt looking into my eyes; so you look away.

As you instructed your mind to see different people sitting next to you, what did you sense around you? And as you attempted to require your emotions to be stable, attaching them to someone you do not like and then to someone with whom you are extremely close, what did your environment look like? Did you continue to feel the sun as it bathed your shoulders in warmth? Did you smell flowers and see wildlife? My bet is that—if you were able to change the “partner” on the bench next to  you—you did not feel the sun or the pastoral experience you felt with me. If you had begun the experience sitting next to an enemy or someone extremely close to you, I think the environment would disappear with the changes in your bench partner.

Why am I spending so much time setting up an argument I can neither win nor lose? I wish I knew. I wish I understood what fascinates me about the psychology of thought and personal interaction. I wish I could see through the façades of context and into the heart of emotion.  And I wish those who actually attempted (whether they succeeded or not) the exercise would tell me what happened. But I do not expect it. Expectations lead to disappointment. And disappointment leads to depression. And depression leads to places we would wish on no one we care about.


Another bizarre and deeply disturbing dream. Or should I classify it as a nightmare? At what point does a dream darken into a nightmare? I suppose there is a thin line beyond which fear turns to terror. Or are there gradations? Concern building to anxiety, then to apprehension, then alarm,  then to fear, and finally to terror? One more ribbon on the emotional spectrum? Yet another example of an affective continuum?

Many of last night’s (or this morning’s) details turned to vapor when I woke, but those I recall are these: 1) I was hosting a President and his small entourage in my home. 2) I had done something (I do not know what—but it was something minor in “normal” civilian life, but equivalent to treasonous in the context of the President) that, if discovered, would put me in danger of imprisonment. 3) I hid something damning among a collection of vinyl records. 4) One of the President’s entourage, a past acquaintance (a man from a long-ago job environment in real life), initiated a search of my vinyl LPs. 4) The searcher came across a Gatemouth Brown record he could not cross-match against some form of information that would prove me innocent of my treasonous infraction. 5) I tried to call Gatemouth Brown in the unreasonable hope he would corroborate my innocence (knowing he did not know me). 6) The person who answered the phone said Gatemouth  Brown is not taking calls.  And that’s it. I’m sure there were many, many more details, but that’s all I can remember. Except I know there was more. I know the President distrusted me. I know something preceded and prompted the search of my collection of records. I know there was a specific plan to unveil my bad deed.

They’ve promised that dreams can come true—but forgot to mention that nightmares are dreams, too.

~ Oscar Wilde ~

In my dream, I was almost paralyzed with fear that my simple treasonous act would be revealed and I would be both embarrassed and imprisoned. When I woke from the nightmare, my heart was beating very fast and I was shaking. Bizarre and disturbing, indeed. Embarrassed? Yes, I felt embarrassed for some reason. More embarrassed, perhaps, than afraid; though my fear seemed akin to both panic and terror. I was glad to be awake, when it was over. Perhaps I should say “regardless of whether it was over.” Because I do not recall how or whether it ended. I shudder, even now, at the sense of dread I felt when I entered a room—where I had earlier been in conversation with the President and his entourage—to find my long-ago colleague rummaging through my LP collection.


My IC and I went to Little Rock yesterday, despite our misgivings. The wildfire-like spread of the COVID-19 Omicron variant concerns us. We have decided to minimize our contact with other people to the extent we can, while still taking care of necessities. Yesterday was a necessity—handing a recall involving an upgrade from 3G to 5G telecommunications technology on my Subaru, about which I was notified just after mid-December and which I was told must be completed by January 15 or the process would be at my expense (oh, I will write a scathing letter or two about that). What I first was told would take about two hours, then was told would be a 3-4 hour process, then was told would take “a while longer,” finally turned into six hours. And, after being promised a loaner car (verified late in the afternoon day before yesterday), I was told on arrival that no car was available. Thanks to my expression of dismay and low-level anger (and to the service advisor’s response to it), we were given a loaner. We did a couple of errands, keeping our distance from people as much as possible, then went to visit The Good Earth Garden Center in Little Rock.

I love The Good Earth Garden Center! Spending hours there is easy and soothing. I think I could spend days there. I could live there! Acres and acres of magic. Though huge areas of empty outdoor displays revealed the extent to which plants were missing, waiting for Spring, the place is a playland. Ceramic planters and outdoor art litter the landscape. Stone and gravel pathways steer the visitor into enormous hot-house sheds full of tropical and semi-tropical plants. A huge building filled with beautiful fountains of every size and shape prompted us to want to landscape our new home with paths and fountains. We spent most of our time at The Good Earth Garden Center outdoors, thanks to reasonable comfortable temperatures and lots of sun. If we were not the sole customers, we were among the very, very few. Though we did not buy anything, we know we will one day. If I win the lottery, I am confident I will buy a lot from that place. I may even buy the place and build a comfortable cottage in its center, where we will live, comfortably distant from the plague.


I have a busy day scheduled for today. Whether being busy equates with being productive remains to be seen. Time—in its incredible ability to see through moments like they were made of the clearest glass—will tell.

About John Swinburn

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