The Other Side of Dark

A week or two ago I spent about 20 minutes watching the beginning of a Netflix documentary entitled, Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones. Those introductory 20 minutes fascinated me, and I promised myself I would  continue watching, but as often is the case, my promise to myself has thus far remained unfulfilled. This morning, as I skimmed the NPR website, I stopped at a piece that focused on the film. Though I did not listen to the accompanying audio, I read the article with interest. I have no illusions that I will live to be 100, nor is that an especially appealing possibility, but the idea of living a simpler, healthier, more fulfilling life is more than a little attractive. The attractiveness of the possibility was enhanced by those 20 minutes of watching the documentary (produced by Dan Buettner, who also has published a companion book), as well as the NPR piece by Allison Aubrey. As I read the article, and considered Aubrey’s “ways to swap old habits for new ones, based on the blue zone revelations,” I found myself joining her in thinking about the people who live in those “blue zones” and, as she puts it, “pining for their way of life.” My 20 minute introduction to Buettner’s documentary, by the way, took place while walking on my treadmill. That fact is awash in competing symbolism. As I approach my seventieth birthday, I wonder whether the symbols are metaphors for scales, and whether they are balanced, or tipping one way or the other.


In this country—and others where materialism is akin to the fervor of fanatic religious worship—we are trained to equate happiness with possessions and instant gratification. Belief that money, luxury, and immediate & perpetual access to leisure are ingrained in us. Media, manipulated and managed by commercial interests whose worth is measured entirely in money and control, teach us to hunger for what we do not have. We are inculcated with the promise that attaining more and more and more will bring about happiness, success, and eternal joy. And we are taught to believe what we get—when we put our hands on those shiny somethings—is, indeed, happiness. I am certain that is not happiness. Instead, it is in fact a deadened emptiness in which despair is controlled by the emotional equivalent of morphine. Even the material evidence of human relationships—sentimental objects that connect us to the memories of people we have loved and lost, for example—constitute anesthetic replacements for something missing in our lives. Not so much the relationships that are no longer possible, but the possibilities we overlooked or disregarded when there was still time to embrace moments that truly mattered. I do not know how to undo the damage done by a society so deeply flawed that gratitude for one another is eclipsed by a craving for what merchants tell us we should want. I am angry and sad; despondent that so much time and so many lives have been and continue to be wasted.  What is gone is gone forever. What we never knew we could have is too far away to reach, now, and getting further and further away.


This morning I understand why mi novia says I sometimes exhibit signs of depression. This morning, I feel those signs smothering me. Trying to stop me from breathing. An incomparable sadness that springs from nothing in particular, but literally everything in and around me. It will dissipate; it always does. But it always returns, sometimes with no warning and with no trigger and without regard to what is or is not happening in my life. Just a mysterious predator of some sort that hides in plain sight and slams me into a metaphorical wall. I think I cause it myself. There is a song that includes a lyric, “you can get addicted to a certain kind of sadness.” That is true, I think. Without realizing it, that bizarre addiction can take hold. But as I write these words, the gloom has already begun to lift. The morning is no longer a would-be assassin. It comes and goes with amazing speed. Except when it arrives and departs with the speed of cold molasses.


The upside of a grey day is the water that may come with it. There’s always something light on the other side of dark.

About John Swinburn

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