Humans define life in ways that correspond to the ways in which we perceive the universe around us. One generally accepted definition is: a process that takes place in highly organized organic structures and is characterized by being preprogrammed, interactive, adaptative and evolutionary. Another is: a principle or force that is considered to underlie the distinctive quality of animate beings. Humans tend to regard the universe itself—including stars, planets, asteroids, light, heat, etc., etc.—as separate from life. We regard certain circumstances that occur in various places in the universe as capable of sustaining life, but we do not consider the universe itself as a life form. Yet some of the language used to describe processes that take place in the universe suggest otherwise. Stars and planets are born and they die. Perhaps the descriptors we use to describe processes in the universe mirror terms we use in connection with life only because they help us understand the world in ways that relate to our experience in that world. Or perhaps, despite our embrace of science, we still cling to an ancient sense of the mysteries of…everything. Or maybe, though we are loathe to admit it, we actually consider the universe and all its innumerable processes a life form of its own. We do not know and almost certainly never will. But such thoughts are worth turning over in our minds on cool summer mornings.


I have such unusual thoughts, in spite of the horrendous headache that makes me wish I were still asleep. If I had been as alert when I got dressed as I am now, I would have taken acetaminophen or some other product that claims an ability to quench pain. Now, as I sit at my computer on the other end of the house from my bedroom, the effort required to trudge back seems too great and the distance too far to warrant making the endeavor worthwhile. But calming the shrieking nerve endings that seem to pound incessantly against the back of my eyeballs is quite an attractive prospect. Once I finish my coffee, I may make the trip back. One way or another, I must end this fierce headache, and soon. I cannot imagine enjoying church while feeling this way. And I will be unable to continue the tasks I began to undertake yesterday if this beast of a headache keeps up. I will not wait to finish my coffee; I will take a break now and make my way back to find painkillers.

One benefit of a dangerous drug like fentanyl is its near-instantaneous effectiveness. If I had been given an intravenous injection of fentanyl rather than just now swallowing a couple of acetaminophen and a sinus medication, my pain probably would have suddenly disappeared. I have had such an experience with fentanyl. Roughly a year ago, when I was in pain severe enough to merit calling an ambulance (the pain was caused, I later learned, by an inflamed pancreas), I was given an injection of fentanyl after being put in the ambulance but before it left my house for the hospital. The pain disappeared before the ambulance began to move. I suggested to the EMT who rode in back with me that I was suddenly fine and did not need to go to the hospital, after all. She disagreed, of course.  This morning’s headache is not nearly as debilitating as was last year’s inflamed pancreas, but I do wish I had access to something that worked as well and as quickly as fentanyl. Acetaminophen is a very poor substitute, in terms of quickly and completely eliminating pain.


If I do not hurry and go outside soon, I will miss the opportunity to soak in the cool morning air. For that reason, along with the mental stagnation brought on by this damned headache, I will conclude this attempt to think with my fingers. Perhaps the cool temperatures will sooth me.

About John Swinburn

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