Things that Matter

Yesterday, we invited a few friends to come take a look at the house my IC and I just bought. We could have waited until we cleaned the place up, paint, put up new light fixtures, blew layers of leaves off the driveway, and so on. But the point was not to “show off” the new house, but to show friends the place where they will be eternally welcome. Travels and other assorted issues made others unavailable to some get a “first look” yesterday, but no matter. We’ll welcome others in time. That first gathering, though, will be forever etched in my mind as the one at which we popped the first champagne cork. When we opened the door, friends presented us with a bottle of chilled champagne and cups from which to drink it. For some reason, the experience of pouring that champagne and raising our cups in a toast to a new adventure was reminiscent of a time in my youth, as a college student, when friends came together to celebrate the launch of a grand new experience. Back then, it may have been someone getting a new job, moving to a new city, beginning a travel adventure, or even something mundane; but it was something worthy of joining us together to celebrate something we would, eventually, share as friends. That’s what it felt like to me yesterday. Thank you, my friends, for being there and for making me feel young and adventurous again.


Friendship is always a sweet responsibility, never an opportunity.

~ Khalil Gibran ~


Photojournalism leaves us with historical evidence of life as it unfolds across the planet. This morning, as I sipped my first cup of coffee, I marveled at both the unparalleled beauty and the monstrous ugliness of photos on a section of the AP website. The photographic story, entitled, A world ablaze, captured by AP photographers in 2021, was punctuated by captions that attempted to describe what was behind photos that caused me to catch my breath:

  • A man lies on the beach in the Spanish enclave of Ceuta in northern Africa after swimming there from Morocco on May 18, 2021. (AP Photo/Javier Fergo)
  • A migrant is comforted by a member of the Spanish Red Cross at the Spanish enclave of Ceuta near the border of Morocco and Spain, on May 18, 2021. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
  • Firefighters battle the Sugar Fire, part of the Beckwourth Complex Fire, in Doyle, Calif., on July 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
  • Honduran migrants clash with Guatemalan soldiers in Vado Hondo, Guatemala, on Jan. 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Sandra Sebastian)
  • A house is covered by ash from a volcano that continues to erupt on La Palma in Spain’s Canary Islands on Oct. 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
  • Haitian migrants wade across the Rio Grande from Del Rio, Texas, to Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, on Sept. 19, 2021, to avoid deportation ​to Haiti from the U.S. (AP Photo/Felix Marquez)

Those are just a few of the many attempts to convey the “meaning” of the photos. To explain the inexplicable—efforts to put into words the powerful emotions that only photographs can convey. Words, no matter how descriptive and no matter how much they can spark the imagination, lack the power of moments captured as images. In the right hands, cameras can capture reality and the emotions that flow through it, better than all but the very best writers. Poets sometimes come close; the photos in the AP gallery were introduced as follows: “Some say the world will end in fire,” wrote the poet Robert Frost…” Photojournalists, though, meld imagery with imagination, translating reality into emotion-laden explanations of the world in which we live. I am in awe of superbly capable photojournalists. They memorialize the transition from then to now. They suggest, through the crystal clear lens of history, where we will be tomorrow.


I will spend part of today at the new house, measuring rooms and making note of things that must be done to make the place the home we want it to be. Closing on a house around one of the busiest and most demanding holidays is, in all likelihood, a sign of stark insanity. I’ve never claimed to be the poster child for sanity, though, so this madness seems perfectly normal (if exceptionally stressful in some ways).

During the day, I will call my brother in Houston, who yesterday underwent two medical procedures: one to remove fluid from his lungs and the other a heart catheterization. The trick is to call  him between interruptions; between visits by nurses and doctors and others who are tending to his medical needs. I have a habit of calling at just the wrong time. He has been having trouble calling out, quite possibly because of dealing with all the wires and tubes involved in his medical care. My minor complaints about my madness are trifles in comparison to what he is going through during this holiday season. While I cannot be there at his bedside, he is (and all the family are) fortunate to have a niece who continues to go over and above her familial responsibility to look after him. I suppose it’s out of the question for an old atheist like me to nominate her for sainthood; I would if I could, though.


It is the friends you can call up at 4 a.m. that matter.

~ Marlene Dietrich ~

May I always be that kind of friend.

About John Swinburn

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