Difficult Options and Unintended Consequences

Finally, after weeks of living in fear that we had experienced the very last rainfall—weeks when the soil dried, then hardened into dusty rock. Weeks of watching robust shrubs wither. Weeks of fearing the air would become so parched it would crack into tiny, sharp fragments capable of shredding my lungs with each breath. Finally, though, it ended. Or, at least, it paused. As I sit here this morning, loud claps of thunder punctuate the constant sound of drops of water slamming against the window and the noise of rain pouring down on the roof. It is too early to tell whether this morning’s deluge is breaking the drought. But it is not too early to express gratitude for the rain and to celebrate the fact that millions—maybe billions—of plants have been given an opportunity to recover and perhaps survive, after a long, miserable period in which terminal dehydration became a very real worry. For now, though, the worry can be tucked safely at the back of mind.


I know a woman in Chicago who is passionate about water and humans’ cavalier attitude toward it. Every chance she gets, it seems, she preaches about the effects of wasting water. My late wife became friends with this woman when both of them were in graduate school in Austin. While my wife was pursuing a doctorate in educational psychology, this woman was wrapping up a master’s degree in public policy administration. Perhaps one of her projects during graduate school focused on public policies relevant to water. Or perhaps her knowledge about the shrinkage in supplies of potable water grew naturally from her voracious reading. I don’t know. I know only that she speaks passionately about wasting water and about the inevitability of water crises owing to that wastage, among other factors. I write about this woman as if I know what she thinks today; I have not spoken with her in years, though I do follow her on Facebook, so I think my description of her passion about water is reasonably close to accurate.

I share the woman’s opinions about water; humans continue to behave stupidly, believing they can put off until another day finding solutions to water shortages. “Another day” has long since come and gone; witness the dramatic shrinkage of Lake Mead. Satellite images from 2000 and 2021 illustrate the enormous loss of water in the lake in just nineteen years. A satellite image from earlier this year shows an even more rapid shrinkage. Research into developing practical technologies that will perform very large scale desalination on a very short timeline is critical; I am of the opinion that funding and prioritizing a project on the scale of the Manhattan Project is called for to develop such technologies. Of course, we should explore and understand the unintended consequences of such a major effort, too. Our extraction and conversion of sea water into drinking water might well do irrevocable harm to the planet’s oceans. Storing or otherwise disposing of the extracted salt could create problems of its own.

Life is full of difficult options and unintended consequences. A successful desalination project could have unintended household consequences. The ready availability of an endless supply of water could change humans’ habits and possessions and avocations: long, luxurious showers; elaborate lawns filled with thirsty grasses; even more golf courses; leaving the water running while brushing one’s teeth; complete abandonment of conservation measures; a monstrous spike in the number of private swimming pools. The list could go on interminably. My point: we must be careful. But even while exercising care we have the ability to make tragic mistakes. We’ve proven that time and time again by engaging in war. War is the single most absurd, wasteful, entirely indefensible human activity ever undertaken. I would write more about that. But I’ll spare myself, and you, that unpleasantness. For now.


Am I alone, I wonder, in finding myself inexplicably attracted to random strangers?

Not overwhelmingly attracted. But oddly and strongly attracted, I think. There’s something about certain people—usually random people I’ve never seen before and will never see again—that draws my attention. Either I stare at them or, if they notice my uninvited stare, I sneak furtive glances at them. I used to think the cause of my extreme interest was based in a sense that I might know the person or the person might remind me of someone I know. After giving the matter considerable thought, I have decided that’s not it, though. Many of my attractive strangers look nothing like anyone I can think of; these attractive strangers just possess a magnetism that I am powerless to fight. I just have to give in and let my visual curiosity run its course.

When I say I am attracted to these random strangers, I do not mean I have a desire to engage with them in some way. I mean only that I want to look at them. I want the freedom to stare at them, unimpeded by the judgment of other people who notice my gaze and find my obvious interest inappropriate. And I should acknowledge that a few of these random strangers are not strangers at all; they are people I know from various settings in which we both are involved.  A couple of people from my church fall into this category.

Thus far, I have not mentioned the gender of these random strangers. Most of them are women, but occasionally I see a male who for some reason I find visually appealing. And not necessarily physically attractive; that is true of both males and females. Their visual appeal is not necessarily connected to what I would call socially-engineered attractiveness (that is, they do not necessarily fit the mold of “movie star” beauty).

At some point, I think I mused about the similarity between my randomly attractive strangers and certain bronze or stone statues. There’s just something about certain statuary that is so intriguing that I cannot keep my eyes off of the art. Am I alone in this situation, this experience in which I find that random people require my eyes to follow them?


The rain continues. Sweet, soft, nourishing rain. I think I could be persuaded to worship a rain god. And, at the right time, a sun god. If conditions were right, I might be converted to naturalistic pantheism. For now, I’ll stop and contemplate this moment; I will appreciate it for all it has done and will do for me.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

I wish you would tell me what you think about this post...

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.