The Unknown or Unknowable

On occasion, thin slices of almost-lost memories struggle to the surface of consciousness. When that occurs, the mind sometimes attempts to resurrect those forgotten moments. Most of those long-abandoned recollections quickly fade. But some of them, after they spring up, remain embedded in the conscious part of the brain, as if insisting on issuing reminders of circumstances from which we should have learned lessons. In those cases, the natural response is to mine the memories for messages. The brain is not satisfied with sudden, unexplained recall. So it keeps scraping at veins that might lead to answers. But it is not uncommon for the mining operation to yield no valuable ore. So the brain compensates by manufacturing experiences—creating memories where none exist. Artificial images depicting events and experiences that existed only in the recesses of mind. Those images might be realistic—though not real—or they may be obviously embellished counterfeits. In either case, they arise not from true reality but from a false reality that has no basis in the physical or the spiritual world.  Recognizing the fact that the mind can conjure “memories” that have no basis in fact, one tends to become skeptical about one’s own thought processes—mistrustful of almost every memory, even vivid ones. If one is not careful, that mistrust might lead to an assumption that every memory, real or imagined, is fictitious, suggesting that one’s very existence is only a figment of a disembodied imagination. Odd, that.

Nothing makes us so lonely as our secrets.

~ Paul Tournier ~


I sometimes feel inexplicably uncomfortable with telephone conversations (yet is that feeling truly inexplicable?). Regardless, there is no doubt in my mind that written communications—especially email and text interactions—fail to deliver emotional content and context as accurately as does voice. Though face-to-face engagement is superior in its capacity for nuance, dialogue by telephone outshines the written word in terms of personal exchange.  Tone, speed of delivery, meaningful/ informational pauses, and the volume of one’s voice cannot be adequately communicated in written form. Only through engagements between mouth, ears, and eyes can intended meaning be conveyed with reasonable precision. But in the absence of visible evidence of their emotional framework, words uttered during telephone conversations far surpass written exchanges. So, despite my distaste for communicating by telephone, I much prefer it to text or email when I desire or need to more fully understand the emotional underpinnings of personal exchange. When presented with a choice, though, I usually will opt for speaking in person than for either talking on the telephone or writing.

Except, of course, when I need the distance and privacy afforded by thinking through my fingers. I am, at my core, a rather private person whose fragile self-confidence is always at risk in face-to-face interactions. Consequently, I can better express myself through a keyboard than with my voice. I am talking to myself, though. Maybe I should simply speak, aloud, I could save my eyes and brain the effort of transferring thoughts to my fingers. I could then read what I had to say without the additional steps.


At last count, the death toll from the monstrous earthquake that struck Syria and Turkey (now properly known as Türkiye) exceeds eleven thousand. That number, in the context of attempting to understand the impact of the disaster, is hard to comprehend. Envisioning eleven thousand bodies is far more chilling and upsetting than imagining the number of buildings that collapsed into rubble as a result of the earthquake and its many aftershocks. Nearly six thousand buildings were leveled in Türkiye, alone. The numbers are staggering. But while news of the cataclysmic event and its aftermath is shocking, the jolt for people not directly impacted by the catastrophe is temporary. Shooting down a Chinese weather/spy/civilian research balloon in our own corner of the world commands more long-lasting attention. So does the President’s State of the Union speech. As does the uncivil behavior of members of Congress in their reactions to that speech. And, of course, as do the Russian war against Ukraine and the unfolding understanding of how many police officers and other first-responders were involved in the beating and ultimate death of Tyre Nichols.

So much bad news. No wonder I had a strong urge to stay in bed and go back to sleep this morning. But hiding from world events is no solution to the problems confronting humankind. Though most of us can do very little to ameliorate the horrors that confront us and the planet on which we live, we can do something. We can donate, financially, to efforts to respond to the needs of people affected by the earthquake. We can collectively demand police reform, in an effort to minimize or eliminate police brutality. We can offer moral and financial and political support to the people of Ukraine in their fight for victory against their Russian oppressors. We can write to members of Congress to express dismay at their immaturity and their unwillingness to compromise to do the work voters sent them to do. And we can seek out and celebrate “good news” that reinforces our capacity to do good, even in the dismal face of  human and natural disasters. Maintaining a positive outlook is very, very hard. But if we do not try, we will let ourselves down. And we will condemn future generations to undeserved physical and emotional hardships. The choice is ours to make. Individually.


Moderately heavy rain has been falling for hours. Though I suspect it stopped during the night last night, it began falling while we were watching the first four episodes of The Chestnut Man., a grisly Danish crime mini-series. We did not know it was raining while watching the program, but a cool, bleak, rain-drenched night is an appropriate context for such a program. Drizzle and fog, beneath thick clouds, lend themselves to dark moods and deeply introspective journeys. The dull, pale grey sky announced daybreak quite some time ago, but the early morning brightening stopped before the trees in the forest became clearly visible. Trees in my line of vision are muted, jagged lines of dark greys and browns, hiding behind a curtain of air too humid to retain even one more drop of moisture. I have mixed feelings about such scenes. On one hand, they are conducive to introspective pathways. On the other, they look too much like grim and grisly settings in Danish woods to permit comfort; they sneer at me and dare me to venture into the forest. I will not do it. Not yet, anyway.

About John Swinburn

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