Yesterday, I listened for the second time to the TED Radio hour podcast, Keeping Secrets. The lead off segment was focused on Frank Warren, who started a community art project to collect stranger’s secrets. He started in 2005 by handing out 300 pre-addressed postcards in Washington DC and he asked something simple: Write one secret and pop it in the mailbox.
I remember being intrigued the first time I listened to the episode, but I didn’t do anything about it. Last night, I took the time to go out and visit the website and poke around. And, it sucked me in as soon as I saw the same postcard:
I loved you so much…that when I miscarried, I told you I had an abortion so you could blame me…instead of God.
I suppose that, by definition, secrets are the antithesis of Too Much Mel. I’m just not wired to keep secrets; I never have been. So, no matter how hard I considered it, I just couldn’t put myself in a position where I would tell my partner anything other than the truth about losing a baby. Frankly, I’m not sure I am capable of that, even if I felt it would make it easier.
That doesn’t mean I don’t have secrets — it just means that the secrets I carry aren’t mine.
It is a great irony to me that someone so unlikely to keep their own secrets is trusted by others to keep theirs. When I think about what I have tucked away in my vault I am both humbled and scared. Humbled because I must have done something to allow individuals to feel comfortable sharing their stories and their secrets. Scared because what if my over sharing tendencies let someone down?
Once, someone felt I let them down. Someone I worked with many years ago shared something with me in confidence. Not long after that, the secret came out and they accused me of telling our boss — they had told no one else, they said. No amount of protest would convince them that I hadn’t spoken to anyone about it. Years later I don’t even remember what it was, I only remember the hard conversation when they told me our friendship was over.
That haunted me for years. At the time, I played the minutes, hours and days back in my mind, trying to figure out if it was possible that I just didn’t remember doing it. After all, I’m not the kind of person to hold stuff inside. I believe that sharing trials and tribulations, fears and dreams, wings and warts builds the kind of relationships that last the long haul.
But, the truth is this no matter how hard it is to keep someone else’s secret, it is much harder to lose their trust. Looking someone in the eye and facing down their disappointment is more painful that tucking someone’s secret aside in a hidden part of my mind. That’s how I found a way to make it work. Turns out that keeping other people’s secrets is easier than breaking their trust.
And that’s no secret.