It’s human to have a secret, but it’s just as human to reveal it sooner or later.
― Philip Roth
I used to think baring one’s soul was a by-product of being a writer.
And maybe it is. But not all writers are secret-sharers. I know writers who are keen observers of humankind but prefer to remain unobserved themselves. I admire them but can’t emulate them. Such people do well not to let me into their secrets. For while I’m a great sharer of my own, I’m a reluctant holder of others’.
Firstly – truth be told – I can’t be trusted with them.
It’s not that I intentionally pass them on; it’s just that I forget. Being an open book has its disadvantages. We are simultaneously sympathetic and untrustworthy. If someone leans towards us with hand conspiratorially cupped at mouth, we change seats. It’s for their own good.
The second reason has more to do with self-protection than altruism.
Other people’s secrets can be a poisoned chalice. There are those secrets that give us knowledge that doesn’t belong to us. Imagine you are told a secret by Friend A that concerns the partner of Friend B. Friend B seems unaware of the behaviour of their partner and, you’re pretty sure, would be devastated by it. Or perhaps they are aware of it and choose to ignore it. Either way, you must choose your course of action carefully, knowing that your loyalty to Friend B demands it, but that you will implicate Friend A if you divulge it.
Also in the category of Secrets-I’d-Rather-Not-Know are those of the deep, dark variety. Those that tilt your world off its axis: the secrets you want to unhear as soon as you have heard them. But in the hearing of them, you have relieved the teller of some of their burden. The child in you is holding your hands to your ears and la-la-la-ing, but the compassionate adult must take the weight on your shoulders. It is both your privilege and your charge to carry such secrets with you. There is no unhearing them; no giving them back. Your role is to be the keeper of the secret, however reluctant.
We all have secrets.
Some are bigger than others. Not all are soluble. Most are diminished by being shared with someone we trust. Like vampires, they lose their power when exposed to daylight.
And when at last you find someone to whom you feel you can pour out your soul, you stop in shock at the words you utter— they are so rusty, so ugly, so meaningless and feeble from being kept in the small cramped dark inside you so long.
― Sylvia Plath,
Choose your confidantes with care and if – like me – they are liable to forgetfulness or reluctance, tell them anyway. You will be doing yourself a great service. And them a great honour.