Unfocused, on Steroids

My thoughts this morning seemed to come out of nowhere. As far as I know, no dream prompted my mind to wander over there. But there it went, off into an abandoned lighthouse on a tiny coastal island inaccessible except by boat. My image of the place was, no doubt, a romanticized version of a nonexistent reality. But it was my romanticized version of a nonexistent reality, so I went with it.

I live alone there. My living quarters—including a bedroom, a kitchen, a bathroom, and a combination living room/study—are at the top of a long spiral staircase inside the round granite structure. The kitchen window faces the sea. Next to the window is a huge door that, when opened, reveals a platform attached to cables and pulleys. On those rare occasions when I have visitors, my guests are sailors who deliver supplies on palettes that I hoist up to the platform and roll into the kitchen. Those rare supply deliveries fill every available storage space inside and beneath my living quarters. Nonperishable foods and foods that are slow to go bad constitute bout three-quarters of those deliveries. I catch or net my own protein.

Though the place is isolated, it has connections to the coast. I have electricity and water and modern plumbing. My mind sees this place as clearly as if I were standing inside my kitchen, looking out over the Atlantic Ocean. This place is as familiar to me as any place I’ve ever been, but I’ve never been here before. Only this morning did my mind wander to this remote spot called Lonesome Rock Light. But once my mind arrived, it knew where it was. It knew the history of the old granite tower. It knew how the light came to be abandoned. But my mind couldn’t answer the question of why I was there. My mind knew only that I had arrived at a familiar place, a place that meant something to me.

I’ve never spent time on the Maine coast. Oh, maybe I crossed over the border between Massachusetts and Maine one afternoon years ago, but I spent no more than a few hours in Maine. Yet in my mind this morning, I returned to  a place with which I was intimately familiar. And I knew my experiences there spanned more time than one man can live.  It was odd to know, for example, that the lighthouse has modern conveniences light electricity and lighting and plumbing, yet deliveries by boat were made by men who made their living as mariners in the late 1800s. Anachronistic aberrations. That’s what they are. I think I’ve recorded enough of my wakeful fantasy that I might come back to it one day and either elaborate on it or analyze why my mind drifted there this morning.


The rules of war, formally known as international humanitarian law, are beyond my comprehension. The concept that humankind would attempt to justify, yet limit, armed conflict is as staggering as it is absurd. On the one hand, we condemn violence. On the other, we accept it as a necessary component of the human condition. We try to camouflage the hideousness of our behavior by attaching “rules” to ostensibly limit the horrors we perpetrate on others.  We set limitations on the extent to which we can inflict excruciating agony on people. We establish guidelines that specify the extent to which it is acceptable to destroy property and social infrastructure. We pretend to narrow the scope of conflict to the military, while protecting civilian populations, but unintentional destruction of orphanages and neighborhoods and hospitals are merely errors that one must accept as a byproduct of war. We attempt to paint the face of war a humanitarian brush. It’s ludicrous. War is, simply put, a failure of humanity. It is an outgrowth of ineptitude and greed and egotism. The “rules of war” that might achieve peace would require the commanders who would wage war to do one final act before they issue the order to fight. They would submit themselves to die in the most agonizingly painful way possible as evidence of their commitment that war is the only answer to the conflict.


In only 47 minutes, I will have to stop drinking coffee (or any liquid for that matter) and eating anything until the CT scan of my head is complete. I’m relatively sure I will not expire by dehydration before the exam finishes. And, then, if time and inclination align properly, I will attend a meeting of the Village Writers’ Club. After that, I will conduct myself in a manner befitting preparation for tomorrow’s lung biopsy. I still haven’t heard from the hospital where it will be done. I was expecting to hear from them Friday, but they didn’t call. I hope someone calls me early today so I will have a better idea of what I’m getting myself into tomorrow.


Yesterday, I watched a documentary film about some people who have created four halfway houses. They are committed to helping people, even people who repeatedly find themselves in (and out) of prison or local jails. It was at once a moving, hopeful film and a depressing, upsetting one. It was particularly upsetting as I listened to one of the people involved in the experience explain that several of the people in the documentary who seemed to be getting their lives back together have relapsed and are back behind bars. They seemed so happy to be in control of their lives again. But then they lost control. Losing control of one’s life is a terrifying experience.

About John Swinburn

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