Sunday, February 22, 2009

So much of our lives are closed books to one another. I see you everyday, but I don't know your secret dreams, your hidden desires. Hell, I probably don't even know how you take your coffee. I am phenomenally good at keeping secrets; my own and other people's. I wonder sometimes how people feel who are professional secret keepers (who would those be? You ask. Priests. Doctors. Nurses. Therapists. Lawyers.) feel about this. What is it like to carry the secrets of not one or a dozen or a hundred but thousands and thousands of people? If you're a member of the Cabinet, what is it like to keep the secrets of an entire country? If you're a cardinal or Pope, what's it like to keep the secrets of an entire religion?
What would happen if we--not the professionals, bound both my law and ethics, but the everyday men and women on the street--told one another our hidden stories? What if we opened our shells just a little? Are we so afraid of being crushed that we'll cower behind walls of our own making forever rather than risk that soupcon of freedom? And some secrets are secret only because they aren't told, not because they're horrible or uncomfortable to share. Let someone know a little more about you. It's much more interesting to talk about real life than to hash over last night's Grey's Anatomy. Some secrets, both mine and others':

I know several women who have had abortions. One of them I held and massaged through her cramps and tears afterwards.

I know someone who actually won a red convertible from the McDonald's Monopoly instant-win game.

I know at least a dozen women who have been sexually assaulted--by friends, fathers, uncles, strangers, husbands. In no way did I think less of them after I knew. In fact, I was inspired by their fortitude and courage in surviving, and in telling me.

In middle school, I went to the national spelling bee in Washington, D.C. I was eliminated on the word "indefatigable."

I know a lesbian nun.

I started smoking with some regularity when I was 13.

I knew someone who died in a plane crash.

My second college roommate was Susan Sontag's niece.

In high school, someone scratched "Dyke" into the paint on my locker. I suspect it was the same kid who later called me "Lesbo" and hit me in the stomach. No one ever did anything about it.

One of my high school friends killed himself right after he loaned me Mark Twain's "Stories from Earth." I still have the book; I don't have Josh.

One of my friends found out she had 'dysplastic cells' from HPV in high school. Two years later her mother died of cervical cancer. I know she must be frightened, but we've never talked about it. Maybe we should...

Of my med school class, I know at least 4 of us have eating disorders, and that many more than that have what might be termed 'alcohol problems.'

Sharing a secret with another human being is one of the quickest ways to diminish its power. It also forges a bond between you and that other person. It doesn't have to be your deepest, darkest desire; it can be that you were the 'weird kid' in elementary school, or that you make your own kim-chi, or that you've always been afraid of dogs. Face your secrets, then share them.

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