Keeping Secrets

Who in your sphere of friends keep secrets that, if  told, could break hearts, ruin marriages, destroy friendships, shatter families, or otherwise upend moderately tranquil worlds? Perhaps the person in your sphere of friends who keeps such potentially explosive secrets is you. What have you done, or even thought, that you would never want revealed, even to your closest confidant?

For some, the secret may be grotesque and horrible; a brutal murder or vicious attack that left its victim physically or emotionally devastated. For others, it might be a lengthy extramarital affair that ended but whose love remains bottled up inside. And for still others, it could be something simpler but just as impactful: theft of money from a mother’s purse or father’s wallet that would, if revealed, unravel familial trust; a wife’s well-hidden alcohol dependency that her husband thought had been conquered.

I have vague memories of reading about a “game” in which participants wrote their closest held secrets on a piece of paper, folded the paper, and dropped it in a box. The game leader then pulled each paper from the box and wrote the contents of the slip on a chalk board. The object of the game was to guess which participant wrote which secret. Obviously, I’ve forgotten elements of the game; no one would be willing to risk revealing their secrets in such a way. Although, perhaps it would work if the participants did not know one another and hid their real identities. I think learning the most intimate secrets held by strangers would be both interesting and cathartic. I suspect that learning those secrets might make mine seem less onerous, easier to carry. But learning others’ secrets would not free me to reveal my own. We hold our secrets as if they were deadly poisons; we think their release would surely kill someone, either ourselves or someone close.

It’s possible, of course, that I may be wrong about secrets. Maybe most people don’t have secrets they guard like the crown jewels. Perhaps I, alone, can remember things I want no one else to know. But that can’t be true, either.

That box into which people drop their secrets is appealing. I’m curious to know what strangers wrote on those pieces of paper. Knowing their secrets, though, would make them more intriguing. I’d want to know more about why the secrets are so private, why it is so important that they be kept. How did the events leading to the secrets unfold? Those questions are what make people so interesting. Sometimes. I suspect there are those whose secrets would be dull and uninteresting. I suspect some people live tedious, vacuous lives. Some people might consider mine as fitting that description. We don’t know what others face and, because we won’t share those secrets, we can’t compare our lives to theirs. Perhaps that’s for the best. We shouldn’t compare ourselves to others, only to our wishes and dreams. That’s enough, though, to hurl us against the edge of the universe and make us cry out in pain. This is going off-course, so I’ll leave it there.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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2 Responses to Keeping Secrets

  1. I’d never heard of Postsecret. I read a number of posts this morning; some were so sad and heartbreaking they just tore me into pieces. I think secrets can be either painful or life-saving. I’m glad you found a way to deal with the pain of your secrets…so that they’re no longer secrets. I just can’t imagine how frightening that must have been the first time.

  2. Hopester says:

    Years ago I did a 5th step (admitted to God, ourselves, and another human being the exact nature of our wrongs) with a female minister and revealed something I thought I’d take to my grave. The world didn’t end. I felt such relief afterwards. But it was pretty scary and I felt so vulnerable. Since then I’ve shared stuff in confession that I also thought I’d take to my grave. That shit eats me up and it’s out of desperation/survival that I have the need to tell someone.

    I have also been the keeper of others’ secrets and that is a hard burden sometimes to carry. It is also a privilege.

    Have you ever read Postsecret? The website has a new postcard display of strangers’ anonymous secrets every Sunday. Reading it helps me know I am not alone in my humanity.

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