Are you a good secret-keeper?
I like this question, because a person can only answer this for themselves. Truthfully speaking, only you know how much you've spilled.
There are some secrets that I'm so purely sworn to that I'd never let them leave my body. There are others, that have slipped off my tongue, in what I'd like to believe are somewhat socially acceptable situations to spill a secret. Then there are secrets whose spilling I've been witness to. I've listened, with awe as people are revealed to me in new and interesting lights without their knowledge. For the most part, I still call myself a good secret-keeper.
I've been thinking a lot about how I feel when someone begins a sentence with, "don't tell anyone." I feel the crack of a door opening me up to the complex inner life of a person.
When you're let into someone else's secret, the information has a function in your body. It is a loyalty test of sorts — can you hold the information (and maybe the discomfort) they share with you, without instantly prescribing a medicine?
There is a scene in the first season of Grey's Anatomy where Meredith breaks down in front of a nurse named Liz Fallon. She tells Liz the secret she's been holding on to for a while — that her mother (Ellis Grey) has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's. It's a scene that makes for compelling drama, especially since Liz was Ellis Grey's scrub nurse for eighteen years. I find myself wanting to coddle Meredith in the scene, even though she's breaching her mother's trust. Her face is grief-stricken, burdened with a responsibility she feels too inadequate to fulfil. It's also interesting to see a child spill her mother's secret — because more often than not it is mothers (or parents) who are the pathetically incapable of keeping a secret.
There's something about this scene that gets me. Through the season, we also see Meredith lie to her own friends about her mother's illness, and more importantly about what it feels like to be raised with a world-renowned surgeon. She struggles with the idea that her mother is an excellent professional, but also a very terrible mother.
I am inclined to believe that this personal secrecy is why I'm drawn to Meredith. A piece of information about someone is still easier to hold on to. The stuff I struggle with is different; the stuff I have hard core issues with are my own secrets ( or the lack of them). I don't think I am a secretive person, but I also somehow seem to have convinced myself that every shred of information about me that is not shared with anyone is a secret. Secrets that I'm not supposed to have. It sounds fairly silly to say it out loud. But when I'm sitting alone in my room on a rainy day wondering how to heal a bad day, I feel pangs of guilt. Guilt of not hoarding up unshared sadness; of keeping things to myself.
Almost everything I've read has directed me towards the understanding that I struggle with the line between privacy and secrecy. That "secret-sharing" is not a hallmark of visibility in friendships, or love in general. Still, on some wretched days guilt overpowers knowledge.
Understandably, it is my latest re-watch of the early seasons of Grey's Anatomy that got me thinking of secrets. The image of a young Meredith tip-toeing around her friends, not being able to tell them of her life-long history of disappointing her mother. It's easy, on some days to start believing that every horrible fact about the self is a boxed up secret — or that its unboxing and unpacking must happen publicly.
It's tough to run away from this narrative. I find comfort in what Rilke said — "Think... of the world you carry within you." I'd like to believe that what I'm doing is not hiding, but simply carrying myself. I insist on thinking (for my own sake) that even though there are multiple suitcases I'm dragging though life, not all of them are secrets. Some are just shut, some are transparent, some I can carry alone, others are too heavy.
Some good things:
Alice Walker on why it takes time to heal.
This is a great Grey’s podcast.
Cheryl Strayed's advice column on your invisible, inner, terrible someone
From Virginia Woolf's diary (the best secret-keeper) — “I don't believe in ageing. I believe in forever altering one's aspect to the sun. Hence my optimism. And to alter now, cleanly and sanely, I want to shuffle off this loose living randomness: people; reviews; fame; all the glittering scales; and be withdrawn, and concentrated.”
Thank you for reading.
Six Impossible Things is a monthly newsletter about art, books, reading, and feelings. You may sign up if you want it delivered to your inbox. You can also come to say hi to me on Instagram @a_catinthesink