Our Untold Stories
There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.
We all know the incredibly heavy weight of bearing an untold secret. There is nothing so heavy as having something significant to share, to get off our chest, and being unable to share it, often because we think that it will be poorly received. But we also know how incredibly freeing it can be when we do.
On last night’s episode of The Office, one of the main characters, Pam, had lice. She got it from her daughter who got it in daycare. Embarrassed, she kept it from everyone in the office. But when another character, Meredith, began to scratch and upon examination was discovered to have lice, everyone thought that she was the one who introduced the lice into the office. Much scorn was heaped upon Meredith, who was judged harshly because of her promiscuous lifestyle. But Pam, knowing that it was she who brought in the lice, struggled with the embarrassment of having to tell both Meredith and the rest of the staff that she was the one who did it. The longer she kept the secret and allowed the blame to go on Meredith the more guilty she felt and the worse the situation became. But in the end, Pam was outed when her mother called the office and was accidently put on speaker phone to report on how Pam’s daughter was doing.
Even though she knew that she had done wrong, making it worse by hiding it for so long, creating unfair disdain for Meredith, causing great inconvenience for all the others in the office who also got lice, Pam persisted in hiding her secret.
But she also felt relief once the secret got out.
And even though it brought her immediate scorn and shame from her co-workers, in the long run it ultimately enabled her and Meredith to talk and to deepen their relationship.
While this was presented humorously, on a fictional show, this story did highlight the dangers of keeping unnecessary secrets and showed the release that can happen when we allow something significant and necessary to be revealed, so that healing and help could come.
Last year, my (Tom’s) wife and I, took a trip to visit one of our friends who had just had her first child. Having no idea what it would really be like to actually have a baby in her house, our friend seemed absolutely overwhelmed. Her baby was colicky for the first two months of his life and he screamed incessantly. We got a stark look at what she was actually dealing with on our visit. He screamed all day long while we were there. She indicated that it was like this all the time. Knowing our friend’s heart, we knew that it wasn’t her temperament to scream and yell and use profanity. Yet we could see the utter relief and weight being lifted off her shoulders when she was able to share with us the extreme amount of anger and frustration she had for her child at times. And we saw even more relief in her when we shared about our own anger, frustration and use of profanity that from time to time we have used too.
Nothing makes us so lonely as our secrets.
Not only is it a heavy burden for us to carry an untold story or a fearsome secret, but it is incredibly, incredibly lonely. There is nothing worse than thinking to ourselves that we’re the only one who has thought something “bad”, done something “terrible”, had “embarrassing” experiences, said something “stupid”, or felt “irrationally scared”. But the fact is that so often when we are able to share something that we have held in and may have been ashamed of or embarrassed humiliated about, when we share it, we can learn that our feelings are much more universal that we could ever have imagined. The fact is, this life is not meant to be lived in isolation and loneliness. Our individual struggles are our communal struggles – we all get afraid, feel alone, have insecurities, make poor decisions, act in ways that are less than noble at times, and have less tidy lives than people would think. But that is our common humanness, our common story. And the more we can share in that commonness the more we are freed, healed and filled with hope.