What Wonder!

Four hours from now, we’ll get in a van (or, maybe, an SUV) belonging to neighbors and head into Little Rock for shopping at Trader Joe’s and lunch at Ya-Ya’s. There’s nothing in particular that I require to justify a trip to Trader Joe’s, but I’m sure I will discover many things I want. So, the jaunt will force me to confront need versus greed; desire in the face of hunger-capitalism, tinged with guilt for craving things my money can—but probably should not be able to—buy. Armed with sufficient guilt, though, I can atone for my participation in a greed-fest. It may sound like I’m poking fun at myself for giving in to an appetite for things I do not need. In reality, though, I seriously question the point at which it becomes morally “okay” to cave in to yearning, when the same money I might spend could buy a meal for someone on the cusp of starvation. Maybe that idea gives too much responsibility to my individual actions; I cannot save the world. But, as many have said in many ways before, one act of altruism may not change the course of humankind, but it might change the course of life for one human. And, so, perhaps a charitable contribution to a homeless person on the unforgiving streets of Little Rock will be sufficient penance for my gluttony. Somehow, that seems a little too much like fee-based redemption. If this sounds a little too “religious,” forgive me for unintentionally comparing and contrasting “Christianity” with human decency; they most assuredly are NOT the same thing.


Try as it seems I might, I cannot supplant my overwhelming joy with devastating guilt. Yet somewhere in the midst of compassion and elation, there must exist a happy and justifiable balance. Or, maybe there’s not. Maybe our only option is to compartmentalize our emotions, taking care to seal the pathways between compartments so neither bliss nor torment are tainted by the other. I think the most likely reality is this: we must simply dedicate ourselves to milking experience for the sheer joy of everything it’s worth, while acknowledging that there are times—many times—when we are obliged to “pay for” our happiness with active, productive, meaningful compassion for others. Absent that real or imagined balance, we’ll go mad.


And all of that brings me to this: I deserve to be happy. I do. So do we all. The fact that happiness is not a universal state of being, though, does not mean that my happiness is not due me. I deserve my happiness as much as anyone else deserves theirs. I’m learning this from a teacher who helps me unlock what I already know and who also is so imbued with wisdom that I am stunned by her appreciation of life’s lessons.

Do good. Be good. And when doing good becomes overwhelming or too hard, enjoy the fruits of experience without remorse. I think those are among the lessons I am learning and teaching myself.  Now, my job is to implement those lessons in the course of living my life. When I do, I will hear her say, “Good job!” I smile at those words and I embrace her for uttering them.


I eagerly await the results of my AncestryDNA exploration. While I doubt I will be surprised (I expect my ancestry to be almost entirely (if not totally) based on a history in and around England), I am more than a little curious to know whether I will presented with possibilities I had never seriously considered. Like, for example, what I wrote some time ago about having African ancestors or even African relatives today. If the world were truly just, I would learn with certainty that I am a child of the universe, with strands of my DNA traceable to the birth of the most distant stars and galaxies. But justice is a Homo sapien construct. So I’ll have to be satisfied with amoral reality, whatever that proves to be. Existence is neither good nor bad; it simply is. My Intimate Companion will help me interpret the results of my DNA evaluation in the context of my discoverable ancestry (she is extremely well-versed in how to do genealogical research).

Fortunately for me, scientists have not yet successfully linked DNA attributes with a propensity for being a serial killer or a political assassin, so I need not fear learning horrible things that might explain my most fearful thought processes. I’m really looking forward to learning what I can learn, though. I realize, of course, that I am not going to get earth-shaking news. I know the results of the DNA assessment will only add bits and pieces to an impossibly complex puzzle about which I will never had all the answers. But it will be fun, nonetheless.


I am a luck man, indeed. While I understand the depths of depression and the pain of loss and the awful knowledge that knowledge is always incomplete, I feel so incredibly fortunate that, suddenly, the sun is bright again. Oh, what wonder!

About John Swinburn

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