Trickle of Consciousness

Yesterday afternoon, I had a not-long-enough conversation with someone who has become a good friend. We discussed, among many other things, a bit about my family. I am the youngest of six, one of whom died several years ago. Four of the six did not have children. Three of the six did not marry. I credit my parents’ financial struggles in rearing six children with my decision, very early on, not to have children. But there is no doubt considerably more to it. It’s a little more difficult to understand why half of the siblings did not marry. This morning, as I considered these matters, I skimmed an article on the Social Security Administration’s website. The article, The Never-Married in Old Age: Projections and Concerns for the Near Future, includes some interesting information. One sentence demonstrated to me the striking contrast between my family and the population at large: “In 2003, about 4 percent of Americans aged 65 or older, or 1.4 million individuals, had never married.” Four percent versus fifty percent. In a microscopic sample, no conclusions can be reached. But it gives me reason to wonder. Maybe next time I participate in a video call with my sibs I will raise the question and see what kind of responses I get. I love conversations like the one yesterday afternoon. They brighten my life.


Tax season will be upon us soon and I do not know quite where to start; but start, I will. My wife kept meticulous financial records and prepared our taxes every year. After she had done all the calculations and was confident of the numbers, she consulted with a tax professional who filed on our behalf. When I asked why she spent the money to have someone do work she had already done, she responded that she felt it was worth the expense to have someone else stand in our stead if our returns were ever questioned. I question my record-keeping and record-sorting capabilities. But very soon I will gather all the records I can, organize them as well as I can, use TurboTax or some such software to determine whether I owe money or money is owed to me, and then ask a tax professional to check and correct my work. I think my wife’s position on the matter makes good sense.


I spent another hour yesterday morning on an Arkansas Hospice grief support group call with a few people who have lost loved ones. I find it interesting to see the difference in obvious pain between people whose losses are recent and those who have had more time to settle in to their grief.


My business career introduced me to people all over the world, though the introductions were generally brief and my relationships with those people were rarely personal; strictly business. But I made a few connections with whom I maintain only occasional and fragile connections today and, as I wrote about a few days ago, some that I have not maintained but whose memories withstood time. Since my wife died, I’ve received condolences from a number of former business associates: a Russian woman, a Pakistani man, a Dutch woman, an Australian man, a Swedish woman, a British man, a Canadian woman, and of course plenty of Americans. Engaging in conversations with people from other countries tends to open one’s eyes about how one-sided are Americans’ views of the world. We are insular in so many ways. We are taught to believe we are the center of the universe, the point from which all earthly good things spring, and other such fantasies. People from other countries have their own faults and frailties, but ours are, I think, among the most robust because we nurture them so tenderly and whole-heartedly. Why this is on my mind this morning I do not know. It’s a fairly common thought rattling around in my head, though, so I guess it was just time for another shot of musing about it.


What would my friends and family say if I told them I have fallen in love with someone else so soon after my wife’s death? My guess is that everyone—to a person—would either tell me (or would think it without verbalizing to me) that my emotion was purely a rebound reaction to the shock and pain of loss. And they would be horrified at what would seem callousness and disregard. If my announcement had been real, they would probably be right. Love and longing are different emotions, I think, though they must be linked in some fundamental ways.

Not to worry, I haven’t fallen in love with someone else. But my affection for some people has greater intensity than before. Actually, I liked them even beforehand, when my wife spent so much time in the hospital and in rehab facilities and they were so kind to me. And I appreciated and enjoyed their company before that, when the world seemed more “normal” and life was a given.

Several times in recent months I’ve mused about my contention that, in humans, almost every emotion exists somewhere along a spectrum that includes an array of emotions. I believe that is true of love and hate, adoration and loathing, etc., etc. Love can devolve into hatred, just as hatred can evolve into love. Adoration can decay into loathing; but loathing can transform in a positive way, blossoming into adoration. Everything is connected. Kisses and bites can come from the same mouth.


This afternoon, I’ll have a video conversation with a couple I’ve known since I was young and tall and handsome. Well, I was young. A twenty-something. And before that, a phone conversation with a financial advisor. And before that, a video conference to listen and learn about “spiritual practices.” Today’s discussion will be far afield from any spiritual practice I may have had: prayer. I am not one who prays. But I’ve grown to understand and appreciate people who do. They pray for different reasons and to different…entities, if that’s the right word. Tonight, Wednesday Night Poetry will include a video reading of a poem I wrote while in the depths of grief following my wife’s death. It’s actually a poem I patched together in part from some other material I wrote.


I think it’s time to refresh my coffee and clean up my act. I finally washed towels yesterday, so after today’s shower I will dry myself with soft, freshly fluffy towels. And I’ll shave with newly-purchased, much-sharper-than-usual blades. And then I’ll put on clothes that are at least eleven years old. At least they are younger than I am.

About John Swinburn

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