7.26.2009

I Have a Secret and I Have No Time


I was going to do separate posts about two musings that I have been musing for several weeks now and that my family’s car accident have brought new focus to, but I am realizing that they deserve to be discussed together in the same post because they are related to each other. So here goes: 1) I have a secret, and 2) I have no time.

Let me explain. Everybody has different things about their lives that they would be uncomfortable revealing to different levels of friends and family. And this is appropriate; it’s one of the reasons we have close friends versus casual acquaintances, and one of the reasons we have the phrase, "too much information." In dealing with not-so-polished parts of my own life, I am fortunate to have different friends from different spheres that I can confide those things to. I am thankful for these angels whose discretion is unquestioned, whose advice is sound, and whose empathy is authentic.

And yet, many of the messier facets of my life can leave me feeling isolated and lonely. To offer a relatively tame example, I have increasingly posted on the challenges associated with my kids’ various issues and delays. With apologies to anyone who has said these things to me, because I know you mean them in the very best way, hearing such encouragements as “I can’t tell they’re behind” or “I’m sure they’ll catch up” or “kids develop at different paces but they all end up OK.” Such statements actually increase my angst, because they further define the differentness about our family situation.

In contrast, where mention of my kids’ struggles, either in person or on my blog, has opened up avenues for people who I didn’t know had similar challenges, those responses have been extremely helpful and affirming. My sharing freed them to share, and what they shared encouraged me greatly. Or perhaps it wasn’t so much what they said, as much as it was learning that I’m not alone in my struggles.

Of course, there are more difficult things for me to blab about to casual acquaintances or write about on my blog. And, in particular, there is one secret I hold very close to the vest. I am lucky to have friends I trust enough to share it with. But it is a big and defining secret, one that I wish was easier to talk about because it can seem so tiring to have to keep it to myself.

I am sure there are many around me in similar situations, who feel the heaviness I feel. But, because of the nature of this issue, it’s not something you easily announce to the world. And so, I’ve been thinking these last few weeks: what a shame that we circulate through our lives, pining for people who understand our deepest struggles, and yet surrounded by countless others who are similarly pining, though unable to know who those others are. What a tragic reality: swimming through life, feeling different, and not realizing we daily bump into others who are different like us, whose camaraderie would provide so much relief if we only knew what we share in common.

(By the way, please don't try to speculate about what my secret is. That I have one, and not what it is, is the point of this post. If you know me well, you know what it is; and if you don't but have a guess, you're probably wrong.)

Sharing about my family's recent car accident has unleashed a torrent of well wishes in my direction. And, not a few personal stories as well. In some cases, closely guarded accounts, which weigh heavily on someone, which have shaped them irrevocably, and which they have not shared with many or any. It is as if we are dying to tell someone - if only to not be the only one who knows - and, if given but one slight opening, will spill it all out.

I am moved by these accounts because they are moving, and because in sharing them with me, others are confiding highly sensitive information to me. I am in awe of peoples' courage, and encouraged to myself be courageous. And I see how revealing intimate information about ourselves fosters intimacy in relationships; like a magnet, these shared accounts draw people together more closely than when such attributes were left unsaid.

Perhaps not in so public a setting as a blog - or perhaps - but in our daily interactions with friends, family, and colleagues, we can learn to shed our invincible exteriors, level up to others about our flaws and our secrets, and experience the opposite of what we might fear: not a shunning but a welcoming, not being thought less of but rather more highly of, not being met with quizzical looks but rather with a sigh of relief and a "yes, me too; I thought I was alone."

Speaking of her own secrets, a blog writer responds to readers who marvel that she is able to be so transparent about herself: "So what I’m telling you here is that I’m scared of secrets. I’m more scared of keeping things a secret than I am of letting people know that I’m having trouble. People can’t believe how I’m willing to write about my life here. But what I can’t believe is how much better my life could have been if it had not been full of secrets."

She's absolutely right. Whether your secret is having been abused or having an addiction or something else (and, by the way, just so you're not jumping to any conclusions, my secret falls in the "something else" category), keeping it to yourself is a much harder path to tread than letting it go by sharing it with others. Sure, you may get help or at least sympathy; but you also get relief, that you no longer have to keep it bottled up inside.

Of course, the trade-off is that now any persona you tried to formulate about yourself is irretrievably sullied by whatever your secret is. Maybe it's just me, but I care a lot about how I am perceived. And my secret is inconsistent with what I would want that perception to be. The dog-eat-dog world in which we live has no tolerance for weakness; and yet, we are all full of weakness.

Luckily or unluckily, we can attempt to cover those weaknesses up: we can manage our outward image through how we conduct ourselves in public, who we associate with and what we do for a living, even how we maintain our profile pages on Facebook and LinkedIn. But, this is all just window dressing; for, at the core, we are riddled with weaknesses, dysfunctions, and uglinesses.

Which leads me (finally, I know; sorry for the long and rambling nature of this post) to my second recent musing, which is that I have no time. Last week, I was working on many deadlines at work, and my wife was cramming for her next midterm. I picked up the kids from day care on a Thursday afternoon and was told Aaron had thrown up earlier that day. It seemed like an isolated incident, but Amy and I realized that if it continued through the night and into the next morning, Aaron wouldn't be able to go to school, and one of us would have to stay home with him. And neither of us was in a position to do that without incurring a significant sacrifice.

And it occurred to us that our lives are too full, that the simple hiccup of a child needing to stay home from school on account of being sick was causing us so much distress. We have filled our lives with a variety of things and for a variety of reasons, and have left ourselves with no discretionary time in the event that life comes crashing into our schedules.

Of course, my family’s car accident represents just such a major deviation. No matter how generous my bosses have been in allowing me space to do what I need to do, no matter how generous my friends and family have been in volunteering their help, I still feel as though I have little psychic room to process the emotional and logistical responses to such a catastrophe. This week has been one more lesson in a series of lessons I have been learning ever since I became a father: whatever you were going to do if it was solely up to you, it’s going to have to play second fiddle at times, when greater responsibilities emerge.

And, being the driven and selfish person that I am, I have received these lessons reluctantly and unwillingly. And this is why the fact that I have no time is connected to the fact that I have a secret. Because both are related to the fact that I care about being a certain kind of person – competent, accomplished, in control – and it is increasingly difficult to maintain such a front. I want to have it all together but am fraying from my secret; I want to dictate how my day, my week, my life will play out, but I have no buffer time and so when circumstances come crashing into my world, I grudgingly accept that my schedule must go out of the window.

Of course, I know intellectually that to put up a front and try desperately to keep to it is a false path to fulfillment. That is the gist of the quote from Jesus that features on the bottom of every personal email I send – “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?” I have head knowledge that authenticity and honesty and real, vulnerable, intimate human relationships are purer gold than worldly accomplishments; and that there are some things in life that are worth dropping everything and cancelling every meeting that day for that, and doing so gladly and easily. But I have a ways to go before I believe and live it in my whole heart and soul.

Please excuse me if this long and rambling post is nauseatingly selfish and narcissistic. Being a dad, and dealing with the aftermath of my family’s car accident, is not supposed to be preeminently about my own navel-gazing and enlightenment. But writing is how I process, and I am in process, trying to get through all that life is throwing at me, especially this season; and to really learn the lessons I am supposed to learn through it all, so I can be more purely the man, father, husband, son, brother, friend, worker, congregant, neighbor, and citizen I am intended to be.

When we look at ourselves in the mirror and do not like what we see, we can either throw away the mirror or we can fix ourselves cosmetically. Or, we can subject ourselves to fundamental changes at the core of who we are, and to a Maker who has a glorious trajectory for our lives. We, others, or life may have bent us far from where we were once going. But that Maker can still get us back on track, and can make something beautiful after all. Or we may discover that whatever we thought was our original trajectory would not have satisfied, and whatever we thought was a senseless deviation turned out to be the very road that led us to glory.
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