Sharing Secrets

Self-control can protect one from danger or embarrassment or various other forms of unpleasantness. I have to exercise self-control on an ongoing basis, for those very reasons. But harnessing one’s immediate desires can prevent a person from experiencing delight, as well. The decision to control impulses can prevent one’s displeasure with an annoying driver from turning into deadly road rage. But that same level of self control that prevents exposing one’s desires can eliminate possibilities. I wanted to kiss Amy when I was about eight years old, but I knew it would be considered highly inappropriate. But what if I had given in to my passion? We might have married ten years later. That union might have guided me toward pursuing advanced degrees in psychology. And my education and enthusiasm could have propelled me to conduct research that would ultimately lead me to receiving a Nobel Prize. But giving in to my urge to kiss Amy might have led to a completely different set of circumstances. I could have been accused of assault. The time I subsequently spent in a youth rehabilitation facility might have hardened me, while simultaneously exposing me to people who would later teach me the finer points of engaging in criminal endeavors. When finally apprehended, I might have been charged with and convicted of murder while perpetrating a robbery of a heavily-guarded storage facility where obscenely rich people store their diamond jewelry and highly valuable original art. A sentence of life in prison might have followed. And I could have lost Amy in the process. But I might have fallen passionately in love with Julia, a married woman, during the course of my criminal career. We might have engaged in a secret relationship for years before my final conviction. The murder might not have had anything to do with the jewelry heist—I might have murdered Julia’s husband. And I might have decided my criminal career was well worth paying that horrible price. Who knows? I don’t.


Last night, we went to see and hear a moderated conversation between former gubernatorial candidate Chris Jones, a physicist, and his wife Jerrilyn Jones, an emergency room physician. The event, hosted by the Virginia Clinton Kelley Democratic (VCK) Women’s Club and the Gateway Community Association (GCA). was organized as a fundraiser for the GCA, a mixed neighborhood comprised of residents, businesses, places of worship, the Hot Springs Convention and Civic Center, and several historical landmarks. After hearing the conversation between them, I wish more people like me had been active campaigners for Chris Jones’ campaign. If he had been able to personally deliver his message to all the people of Arkansas, perhaps the tragedy (the horror of the election of Sarah Huckabee Sanders as governor) that befell us could have been averted.


Since my wife died, my love of cooking has diminished almost to the point that it no longer exists. Maybe I have just become exceptionally lazy. I am sure my recently imposed dietary restrictions—dramatically reducing the amount of carbohydrates I consume and otherwise limiting my freedom to eat unlimited volumes of everything—have reinforced the change in me. But that cannot take all the blame; the change occurred long before the imposition of “rules” that prohibit my exercise of the right to eat unrestricted amounts of anything reasonably safe to put in my mouth. No, the loss of my passion for preparing and/or consuming elaborate or exciting meals took place in concert with my late wife’s hospitalization and subsequent placement in “rehabilitation” centers. In hindsight, I guess the fire of my innate affection for culinary adventure…to remain ablaze…required the spark she provided. Even when I felt I did not have the energy or drive to spend time in the kitchen, she somehow infused me with the energy and inclination to do it. Now, though, the restrictions imposed on me in the form of warnings about my health—coupled with the absence of sufficient interest and energy—have essentially erased my inclination to conduct culinary experiments. Or even to follow elaborate recipes that might yield extraordinary results. I would rather spend five or ten minutes preparing a meal that requires little effort and virtually no imagination. I’ve lost a part of me impossible to recover, thanks to food’s role in disrupting my body’s ability to remain healthy. A “friend” once condemned me for my passion for food, effectively accusing me of “living to eat” when I should have adopted her philosophy, that a person should only “eat to live.” I might as well have adopted that philosophy; it has been forced on me by circumstances.


I occasionally have to remind myself that, despite the minor challenges that face me on a daily basis, I live an incredibly lucky—almost enchanted—life. Obstacles to happiness, for me, do not take the form of war or insufficient supplies of food and water or environmental dangers that might expose me to painful or incurable diseases. I do not worry that marauding gangs will regularly visit me to steal from me or torture me or mi novia. I am remarkably fortunate in that when and where I live protect me from constant fear for my well-being or the well-being of my loved ones. Yet even in the absence of a litany of existential threats, I still sometimes feel suffocated by hopelessness. Sometimes. No, not really. That suggests some kind of regularity. No, that sense of hopelessness is infrequent. But when it comes, it can be intense. And it requires no discernable trigger; it just happens. When it does, all the magnificent good fortune that is mine shrinks into a tiny bubble, deep in an ocean of despair, struggling to survive an impossible trip up to the surface. Today, fortunately, is not one of those occasions. But it is best to consider them, I think, from a safely distant perspective, although I am not sure exactly what “considering” them will accomplish. It just seems like the responsible, “adult” thing to do. But “adulting” is not always a good thing. I’ve long been a proponent of expressing one’s inner child—the kid whose insatiable curiosity regularly got him into delightful, exhilarating, wildly energizing trouble. And I bounce between being in favor of—and, then, denouncing and avoiding—breaking rules of good behavior and proper, dignified decorum.


Good morning. Even though I reveal a great deal of myself during my morning writing rituals, no one really knows me. We do not know one another as well as we would like. Because every one of us has secrets. Deep secrets. Secrets we might want to reveal, but for the fear of how people…or just one person…might react. What’s your secret? I won’t tell a soul.

About John Swinburn

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