Telling Secrets


Last year I reconnected through Facebook with a woman I haven’t seen in over 50 years. We recently found ourselves in the same town on vacation and got together for an outside lunch, where we could be socially distant. Lunch turned into a five-hour catch-up session.

She asked me all kinds of questions, based on my Facebook posts and blogs, and I tried to be truthful and open.

Then I asked her to take me through her life. It was riveting. Listening to her felt like being on a runaway roller coaster, and I thought I might throw up at one point. As she ended her story, I was teary, imagining how hard it must have been to endure her many disappointments. She said, “You know, I’ve shared all this with only two other people because you’re the only ones who’ve asked me.” And I now feel so close to this woman, even though we’re very different.

That was an aha moment for me. It helped me realize that a lot of people want to share their secrets, but no one asks them to. We don’t bother to pick up the phone or make a date to talk alone with people who are not comfortable sharing their secrets in a group setting. And why is it important to share secrets and listen to secrets? Because it helps us understand and develop compassion for others. And with that compassion comes an increased ability to love others, people of all kinds.

Facebook is a place where we highlight the fun times. It’s not necessarily that we’re hiding who we really are; perhaps we just don’t want to be depressing. Or maybe we’re very private. I have noticed, though, when people do share bad or disappointing news on Facebook, there is usually an outpouring of love and support.

But not everyone wants to take that chance, to be vulnerable. Sometimes we need to give them that chance.

I’ve found that sharing secrets is a bonding agent. I’m in a book club that was formed over 20 years ago. Every once in a while someone in the group shares a secret. The empathy in the room is palpable! And the group is tighter than ever.

My friend Catherine Penn Williams, a Jungian therapist, has introduced me to some marvelous people through quotes on her Facebook pages. One of these people is Frederick Buechner. In his 1991 memoir, Telling Secrets, Buechner, who is now 94 years old, says, What we hunger for perhaps more than anything else is to be known in our full humanness, and yet that is often just what we also fear more than anything else. It is important to tell at least from time to time the secret of who we truly and fully are . . . because otherwise we run the risk of losing track of who we truly and fully are and little by little come to accept instead the highly edited version which we put forth in hope that the world will find it more acceptable than the real thing. It is important to tell our secrets too because it makes it easier . . . for other people to tell us a secret or two of their own…”

I want to be the real thing. I don’t want to lose track of who I “truly and fully’ am. And if that means sharing secrets and making myself vulnerable, I’ll take the risk.