That First, Powerful Kiss

Here it is, 3:15 a.m. and I’ve been awake for more than twenty minutes. I can feel my eyelids attempting to reclaim the sleep of which they are being deprived, but the allure of sleep is insufficient, for now, to lead me back to bed. So, for at least a bit, I’ll try to empty my mind of what’s keeping me from enjoying sleep the way it should be enjoyed.

Forty-five minutes before my dinner guests were to arrive last night (yesterday afternoon, actually), I opened Facebook. There, right at the top, was a photo of my wife. She was smiling broadly, as she so often did. I could see the happiness in her eyes as she stood in front of a beautiful, brightly colored painting in the lobby of the Boutique Hôtel Cezanne in Aix-en-Provence, France. The photo was taken five years ago during the Road Scholar tour of the south of France we took with my sister. Despite the happiness of the image and the memories it triggered, seeing it prompted almost unstoppable waterworks and an outpouring of grief, the immense power of which I hoped might have begun to subside these past few months. I should have known better. I spent most of the next thirty minutes trying to regain enough emotional control to finish preparing dinner, as I recalled our experiences in Marseilles, Aix-en-Provence, Arles, Avignon, Cabrières-d’Avignon, Gordes, Nîmes, and dozens of other little towns and villages.

And, then, I spent the following fifteen minutes astounded and embarrassed at the emotions that followed; selfishly wishing for a warm hug from a loving woman who would hold me close and comfort me. The two emotions seemed—and still seem—so utterly at odds with one another. Grief, missing my wife with an enormous fervor, on one hand, and desiring the comforting embrace of another woman, on the other. What kind of demon processes those kinds of competing, opposite emotions at the same moment? Maybe it’s not an ugly, selfish, craven madness; maybe it’s normal or, at least, not thoroughly abnormal. No matter whether normal or monstrous, though, I am confident I will try to find a way to excuse it as simply an expression of grief. Isn’t it so very convenient that I do not need to condemn inexcusable flaws because grief provides a shelter for even the most egregious transgressions. Ach!


I pulled myself together in ample time. The evening went without a hitch. In fact, last night’s dinner was pleasant and calming. My guests, a couple who are friends from another lifetime ago, enabled me to transform a guilt-ridden few moments into an evening filled with laughter and memories and genuine enjoyment. These friends, now retired, owned a very successful mystery shopping company and were active, as leaders, in one of the associations my company managed and served. We talked about conferences we attended together—in Moscow and Dubrovnik and so many other places. And we reminisced about other people whose company we enjoyed so much during our travels. Though we never completed the conversations, nor the ideas, we toyed with the possibility of hosting a “reunion” of sorts, right here in the Village. Though I do not miss association management, in general, I miss some of my client associations and the members to whom I became close.


During a recent conversation with a friend from church, the possibility of international travel came up. That conversation has kept coming back to me, prompting me this morning to open my always-ready link to the Iceland Monitor. The first thing I noticed when I opened the link was an article discussing an unusual haze over Reykjavík. Here’s what the article had to say, explaining what what going on:

Meteorologist Eiríkur Örn Jóhannesson, at the Icelandic Met Office, explains the reason for the haze: “This is dust from the outwash plains around Markarfljót river, [South Iceland]. We’ve had strong southeasterly winds [since Wednesday], and it’s been very dry, so the sand is dry, which is why this exceeds what we’re used to.

“This appears as particle pollution at the Environment Agency stations,” he continues. “It is somewhat coarser than particle pollution from studded tires, but of course it has an effect, which is why it is marked as red.”

The next thing I noticed was from a photo-op, showing US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Icelandic Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir in conversation. Iceland has, for years, been attractive to me. It occurs to me that I might finally just invest in travel to the country. I love the fact that Iceland seems so youthful and willing to embrace equality. And, to top it off, from all accounts it’s a gorgeous country.

Like so many things, I have a broad and shallow knowledge of Iceland. I should learn more and plan to travel there. Anyone want to join me?


It’s nearing 4:00 a.m. now and I am getting wider and wider awake. That is not good, because I want to be fully awake and energetic when, this evening, another friend comes over with a bottle of wine and an interest in looking at the ceramic masks I have made. So, perhaps I’ll put my fingers back in their cases for awhile and will try to get back to sleep. I look forward to enjoying wine and hors d’oeuvres and conversation this evening, enjoyment that could be derailed if I were constantly yawning and nodding off in the middle of sentences.


So, I’m off to bed. I expect I’ll be back here to continue, or to finish, what I’ve been writing.


The time is now 6:54 a.m. I have been up since around 6:30 and now am drinking a cup of coffee. I rather expected to sleep even later, given the intensity of my wakefulness before I returned to be, but one never knows. This morning, as I ruminate on our trip to the south France, I recall how thoroughly taken I was with the region. I believe I could have been left to live in the Camargue and I would have adapted quickly. Except for speaking French. It is a lovely, melodious language, but my tongue is not suited for it, I’m afraid. The shape of my tongue and my mouth and the demeanor presented by my body language screams Deutsch,. It’s as if I were a native German whose accent remained perfectly harsh and acute after an accident that robbed me of making coherent the sharp and stringent guttural noises!


Hania Rani is a Polish pianist, singer, and composer whose talents are stunning. Listening to her play the keyboards just once was an extremely pleasing experience that introduced me to her remarkable talents. Listening a second time, almost a month later, persuaded me she is a genius. Listening again this morning as I write this convinces me I can be calmed by piano music; entranced by sounds generated not so much by the instrument being played but by the soul of the pianist. I sometimes listen to “Spa” music on Spotify and the twin brother on my Amazon Echo. Even the best of those offerings pale in comparison to thirty-year-old (plus or minus a year or two) Hania Rani’s music.

Speaking of music, I am delighted that my taste in music runs the gamut from jazz to blues to rock to rap to the classics. Even country has its place in my repertoire of “go-to” pleasing sounds. Music simply elaborates one’s moods. Musical sounds capture and amplify (or release and soften) emotions. When I think back to times (some quite recent) during which my musical preference tends to be stable, leaning toward one genre or another, I think my moods and thought processes tend to echo that “sameness.” Musical variety mines my emotions the way a diver mines shallow waters for abalone shells. Every new find is different from the one before; rich and beautiful and glistening with iridescent colors that spark passionate responses. Sticking to one genre, no matter which, seems somewhat limiting to me. I think we need to shock our emotional responses to music by regularly exposing our ears to sounds and rhythms that, on first listen, might seem initially unpleasant or unfamiliar or discordant at first. Our ears and our minds and our emotional cores learn from experience; even when that experience is painful or gut-wrenching.


Many years have passed since I had that “first kiss” that electrified me. The first one took place when I was just a kid; I must have been somewhere between eight and twelve years old. I remember the girl’s name, but I’ll use only her given name: Amy. Amy’s father was the school principal where my mother taught school. For reasons I never knew, Amy and her father were at my house one day. Amy and I went into my very big back yard, where large mesquite trees provided ample “cover” and privacy for two children who were physically attracted to one another. I do not recall exactly how it happened, but I assume Amy initiated it; even then I was shy and reserved and more than a little scared of girls. Whatever the genesis of the experience, we kissed. As I remember it today, it was a long, leisurely, but passionate kiss. I felt a new and powerful emotion that caused my body to feel like an electric current flowed through it. I don’t know how it affected Amy; I don’t think she was similarly impacted by it; we did not kiss again.  remember thinking, for weeks afterward, that I must have done it wrong, because it didn’t seem to have the same effect on her as it did on me. She was not lovestruck. It must have felt like more of a casual brush on the cheek to her, whereas I think I assumed a kiss that deep and powerful could only have arisen from true love. I was a gullible romantic then; I’m not quite as gullible now. But in the intervening years, I experienced a few similar moments in which I felt the electricity course through me with enough power to leave my arteries and veins singed from the heat.

Now, in the midst of feelings of both intrigue and guilt, I wonder about the next “first kiss.” Do they even happen anymore after one reaches geezerhood? Is the very idea of an exciting “first kiss” an absurdity at this late stage of life? I honestly don’t know and I’m probably too embarrassed at my inexperience to find out. That’s another thing about moving (and renting) to a new place where one is unknown. Mistakes, when the embarrassment attached to them is too great to take, can be erased simply by moving away to a new community for a new chance. Friendship and its more intense embodiments


Last night, during our dinner conversation, my guests told me about their daughter (in-law?) who had just lost a pet. She feels intense guilt for its demise, because she took it to the veterinarian to be euthanized. She now thinks she should have taken it home to live out its final days in a familiar place. Even though it was in agonizing pain, could not walk, was in an ongoing state of diarrhea, and otherwise was in miserable condition. She felt, and feels, guilt. I feel for the poor woman; having responsibility for an animal’s life and death is a weighty one. But I think when a person concludes the time is right to release the animal from its suffering, the person’s conclusion is correct. Maybe the animal would have lasted a bit longer, but its quality of life would have been awful. Euthanasia is the right thing to do, in most cases, I think.

After my guests left, I viewed an email sent by a friend, informing me that her dog was critically ill. Consequently, some plans we had to get together to talk about RVs and selecting communities in which to live and other such stuff might have to wait. I offered to go with  her to Little Rock if she determines her dog needs to go to competent doggie ER.

Coincidentally, just as I was writing this, my cell phone rang. I saw it was her calling. But when I picked up and said “hello,” I did not get a response. I spoke a bit more and I listened to indistinct voices on the other end. After a moment, she realized someone was talking to her from her phone. The call was made accidentally; commonly called a “butt dial,” though I’m not sure exactly how it happened. At any rate, I learned a little more from her (after she realized she had accidentally called me) about her dog. I hope it gets better, but I reiterated I would be available to go to Little Rock if necessary. A woman who used to follow my blog (and with whom I used to regularly exchange emails) would have called the circumstance an example of synchronicity. Now, I wonder what my former follower is doing these days and how she is doing; for reasons too convoluted to go into here, I was getting concerned about her, after reading some things into her emails. But, I suspect she simply tired of “talking” with me. I hope that’s it. Uh-oh. I just slipped part way into a rabbit warren, didn’t I?


Crap! I’m falling asleep again. I may take an early morning nap to get it out of my system.

About John Swinburn

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