Thoughty Conglomerations

I spar with the world, but I’m generally quite happy with it. If I had absolute power and control, I might change a few things about it—poverty, war, famine, thirst, sickness, loss, physical and emotional pain, politics, corruption, disease, judgment, etc.—but on balance, it’s still a pretty good place to be. As I said, I spar with it on occasion (at least twice daily), but we rarely land blows on one another as to cause any serious or long-lasting damage. Rare, but it does happen. The world has landed those punches on me; I haven’t been as successful. At any rate, even as I recall those unpleasant punches, I appreciate the other ones, when the world strokes my hand and my heart. The world is in the form of a human being at those moments, of course. Yet while the number of hard punches is far less than the number of strokes, the punches are much heavier and harder. The scale can remain balanced only if the number of hard punches the world lands remains quite low. A single addition could catastrophically upset the balance. There is no way of knowing when or whether the world will land another blow. Nor do we know whether another outpouring of pleasant strokes of the hand and heart could possibly outweigh an additional heavy punch. Eventually, we’ll find out.


BC. That is shorthand for “Before Covid,” that carefree time when the world was closer to its ideal than is the case today. Among the things I miss about those BC times is the impromptu Sunday lunch gatherings after the service. A small group seemed to form out of nowhere; someone would say “join us for lunch?” This small group murmured its approval; a decision about location was made on the fly, as people headed to their cars. But that was BC. Today, even as the mask veils have been lifted, at least for a time, the impromptu lunches have not returned. The congregation remains friendly, but seems to be not quite as close; not quite as open to informal gatherings, which are increasingly rare. Bear in mind, any who read this, that this is one person’s perspective. It may not be shared by another living human; so keep that in mind.


Recently, I switched channels from Netflix and Amazon Prime to Hulu to watch the first season of a series entitled Nine Perfect Strangers (now finished…worth watching, if a little odd and somewhat slow-paced). I had watched Hulu programming before, but stopped because of the volume of commercials. Nothing has changed. I felt like I was given 7-minute snippets of the story in return for watching 5-minutes of excruciatingly bad commercials. Regardless, I made it through a season of Nine Perfect Strangers. But, then, I switched back to Netflix. It was like stepping out of a worn and rusted 1956 Studebaker Golden Hawk and into a 2022 Lincoln Navigator.  The former may be sturdier and have more value as an antique, but the latter provides instant gratification in the form of a luxurious interior.


We have been spoiled. And we’re still being spoiled. There was a time, not so very long ago, that my options for television entertainment were ABC, CBS, or NBC. Today, my options have no bounds. If I wanted to watch a film, uninterrupted, I had to go to a movie theater; now, I simply press buttons to call up the film, then watch as much or as little as I like, at my leisure. Without interruptions. In days past, our options for dining out were severely limited, especially in terms of international foods. An article in The Atlantic reports that restaurants accounted for 25 percent of food spending in the 1950, versus 50 percent in mid-2017.  Too many options. These days, we do not even have to go to a store to buy our groceries or clothing or even an automobile. We can order them all online, from the comfort of our desks or dining room tables. On one hand, I find disgusting the level of sloth resulting from these millions of opportunities for overindulgence. On the other hand, I rely on these luxuries to such an extent that I question where I could live without them. It would be like doing without water, I think. Appalling.


My lips form words. Your lips form words in reply. I watch your lips respond to the sounds produced by the way mine move. And I watch as you respond to the way I hold my jaw when I curl my tongue and purse my lips to form the sounds that combine to make the word “you.”  Our eyes meet during the back-and-forth vocalization, saying far more than the sounds coming from our lips. Our eyes tell unrelated stories; stories that have nothing to do with the vocalization and everything to do with all the years and years of silence that preceded it.

Before I met you, I was a different person. And you were a different person. Had we met a month earlier or a month later, the outcome could have been utterly different. We would have become different people, but not the same different people we are today. That’s what life is like. It is randomness that’s sometimes exponentially amplified by multiplying its own randomness.

The two preceding paragraphs could have been written with one person in mind or they could apply to a dozen people. Only I know which is true. Except I might fool even myself if I were to allow my mind to wander through its own thickets and find old paths that have never been used as fully as was intended when they were made. What if, the writer in me asks, I were to explore who they might have become, had the clock moved just enough to radically alter circumstances? The same writer answers, “That sounds like a good idea, but not now; at the moment, I’m in a ditch, covered by large, crack pieces of writers’ block. But as soon as I am rescued, taken to hospital, and then can leave my subsequent home at the writers’ rehabilitation center and move back into my own house, I’ll get right on it.”

About John Swinburn

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