Memories and secrets

As I rifle through my happiest memories, I find many of them tinged with the sadness of absence. They are either memories of seasons long gone, or of moments shared with people no longer in my life. While precious nonetheless, these memories remain fragile, and I dare not peer too closely.

I decided to search not for a happy memory necessarily, but one that I could hold close to my heart without fear of it shattering. And then I found it.

It is a memory of hope.

It was January of 2018. I had just turned 27 and I found myself once again in a pit of despair. It became a daily routine to drag myself to the Cathedral during times of the day when I knew it would be empty. Day after day I wept and demanded that God tell me what else He wanted of me. Somewhere amidst that barren monotony, my heart grew weary enough to at last be silent. That was when I heard the still, small voice of Hope.

At this point in my life, the rest of that story is to be kept secret. You may be surprised, because over the years I may have come across as an open book in this space. But this entry isn’t about the value of my story, but the value of secrets.

Secrets have developed a bad rap; we tend to see them as antithetical to courage and authenticity, perhaps especially so in this age of social media (and of oversharing). As a millennial, surely I’m a product of this age! But in recent years, I have learned to see secrecy as an instrument of discernment. Secrets demarcate the boundary between our interior and exterior lives.

One book that was instrumental in inspiring me to hold tight to certain memories is The Love That Keeps Us Sane: Living the Little Way of St Therese of Lisieux by Fr Marc Foley:

[W]henever we expose an intimate part of ourselves, a quality of is lost. We can never look upon that part of ourselves in the same way again; our gaze has been altered and infected by the evaluations and judgments of others. It is like sharing with others how deeply we are touched by the beauty of a painting. If the people we are sharing with begin to criticize the quality of the painting, point out to us its flaws or the artist’s immature style and the like, we feel demeaned and diminished. . . . From that point on, we can never look at our beloved painting in the same way again, for our inner vision has been infected by the judgments of others. Even when we are alone with our painting, we are not alone. Because we have internalized the judgments of others, we feel that people are looking at the painting with us. As a result, we cannot allow ourselves to be touched by the beauty of the painting as we were previously, because we cannot risk being shamed again. In short, we cannot be present to it. A presence has vanished.

I found this to be true even with positive judgments! The thrill of flattery threatens to displace the promise of the original memory.

When we intuitively sense a special moment of grace, we need the discipline to water it, tend to it, watch it grow, and sit in its shade. There is great discipline in secrecy.

Because grace is still operative in memory, we need to exercise caution even in sharing the “past” experiences of our lives; some memories are meant to function as solitary haunts into which we can retreat and find refuge from the world.

Perhaps that’s what the Evangelist meant when he wrote that the Mother of Jesus “kept all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:19).

The “Stay-Home Artventure Passport” was originally created for my students here in Singapore. I’ve since adapted it for everyone else who’d like a creative (and surprisingly introspective) getaway. If you’d like a soft copy of the “passport” itself, leave your email address in the comments and I’ll send it to you for free. 

Next prompt: My favourite quote


12 thoughts on “Memories and secrets

  1. You write a thought-provoking passage here on the sacredness of secrets. In my own life, I have seen the damage too much openness can bring about among family, friends.

    How True!: “Secrets demarcate the boundary between our interior and exterior lives.” Yes! And with regard to compliments or “likes” on social media: “The thrill of flattery displaces the original memory.” Great insights!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Very insightful! I agree wholeheartedly-some things are meant to be kept quiet. I, too, have felt the shift after sharing something personal. Since then, I have been much more careful and I find the dignity retained at keeping quiet is worth it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I am surprised to say this but I agree and am so thankful to have read this bc I have felt this with “paintings” in my life. I’ve always worn my heart on my sleeve but in recent years taken it to a whole other level in order to maintain control of some kind I suppose. I have recently begun to think it is hurting me to be so open so quickly. This post was very timely.
    Thank you for your insight.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow! You just revealed something to me that I had not discovered on my own, even though it’s been right here with me all along. I’ve allowed my spirit to be dampened and even crushed many times over the years by sharing something, only meant for me, with others who did not appreciate it, or for whom it was not intended. I will be more careful in the future with those special treasures. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I find that I agree with this. You’re right, in this age of (ovrersharing), we need a safe space, untainted by judgments, to retreat back to.

    May the voice of Hope keep whispering to you❤

    Liked by 2 people

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