Tag Archives: sharing

We are only as sick as our secrets

Secrets have been on my mind for the past year, ever since my mother revealed a secret she had been keeping for almost fifty years—which sparked my own awareness of a secret I had been keeping even longer.

Secret-shame-vulnerability

Since then, I seem to be very aware of others’ secrets and how often people shade the truth or tell half-truths to frame things in a different light.

For example, I recently attended a talk about Etty Hillesum, a woman who lived in Amsterdam during World War II. The speaker talked of Etty’s affair with her professor but failed to mention that Etty had had an abortion. I wondered why. Etty wrote about the abortion; it was not a secret, yet this person recalling Etty’s life left out this detail.

Was she trying to protect Etty by not talking about the abortion? Did she have feelings of shame around abortion that led her to omit it? This presentation was at a Catholic retreat center, and I wondered if the setting and the audience prompted this omission. But why did she include the details of the affair? It was all a mystery to me.  

Secret-shame-vulnerability

Secrets abound in the British detective tv shows I watch. Often, some secret is being kept which is key to solving the mystery.  “Why didn’t you tell us?” the detective asks in exasperation when the secret finally comes out. The detective doesn’t care that the grandfather had a child with the maid or that the mother had a wild past or that the children have squandered their inheritance. The detective just wants the facts and not an edited version of history.

It seems that we can be our own worst judges when it comes to our secrets, believing that the worst will happen if our secrets are revealed.

The truth is that we are the same people we were before our secrets were revealed, and those who love us will continue to love us once they know our secrets.

People may be surprised or even shocked to learn of some traumatic event in our past. They may have to adjust their image of us. They may review the relationship in light of new information, but if they really love us, they will get over their shock and adjust their image. They will remember that we are the same person we were before they knew our secrets.

I have always been open about being a rape survivor, but not everyone in my life knows about it, mostly because it does not come up in everyday conversation and because I have moved around a lot. The “getting to know you” phase of new friendships don’t usually include talk of rape or other traumas, so while my history is not a secret for me, it usually doesn’t come up until a relationship is established.

My goal is to have nothing to fear, nothing to prove and nothing to hide. I desire to live transparently, holding nothing back and keeping no secrets.

Secret-shame-vulnerability

About love

Soon after we met,

Ted asked me out to dinner.

I said “yes;”

he heard “no,”

and forever after he was convinced

that I was not interested in him romantically.

Maybe I wasn’t,

because we became just friends.

Good friends,

travelling companions,

confidants,

soulmates in a way,

but never lovers.

In some ways, I think he knew me better than I knew myself.

He would tell me that I was crushing on someone before I had any idea—

or was it rather that because he suggested a crush, I developed one? Hmm.

He was always generous in his gift-giving

(I remember the day, soon after moving into my new house,

arriving home from work and seeing

a gigantic Tiffany’s box on my patio).

Ted ate at fine restaurants, traveled first-class and generally lived large.

But he never forgot his working-class roots—

he claimed to be the first man in his family to wear a tie to work

(having been a lawyer before he opened his bookstore).

He supported numerous non-profits and schools, usually requesting anonymity.

“Don’t let your right hand…”

Ted was a fan of all things Hitchcock.

One time, we met up in San Francisco to recapture the scenes in Vertigo.

We visited all the sights and stayed at the hotel in the movie.

He thought because I am a Madeline,

I should pose for the Madeline shots

(like pretending I was going to jump into the water beneath the Golden Gate Bridge).

He would have been happy if I wore a blond wig for the picture,

but I drew the line.

He wanted me to move to southern Oregon

and work with him in his bookstore.

If that was a test, I failed.

Oregon?

Too far (three flights each way).

Still, we talked several times a week

until he got esophageal cancer,

and then we talked several times a day

until he had to get a trach

and talking was too difficult for him.

Then just I talked.

We only argued once in the thirty-two years I knew him.

Mostly, he made me laugh and helped me enjoy life.

He trusted me, and he loved me.

I loved him, too,

and I miss him every day.

How many?

Cleaning out a closet recently, I came across a baseball cap that had belonged to my friend Jim. I emailed his friend Patrick to see if he would want it. He replied that he already has a baseball cap and doesn’t need another. He only needs one? I probably have a dozen baseball caps, so I found his response disconcerting. I have hats in different styles and colors for different occasions. How can he only need one?

I started looking around my house at other multiples—blankets, tablecloths, sweatshirts, shoes, etc.—and asked myself how many of anything I really need.

Like baseball caps, some things just seem to multiply in my house. It’s like a fairy tale where elves are working throughout the night to create more blankets, coats, shoes and so many other things that fill up spaces in my house. But how many do I really need?

Intellectually, I know I need way fewer of most things than I have (for example, I have three metal tape measures, three sewing tape measures and two yard sticks—how much measuring do I even do???)

And then there is my knitting. Every year I tell myself that I am going to knit up the yarn in my stash before I buy more yarn, but then a new baby comes along, and I need to get a specific yarn for a blanket, or another knitter is retiring and plans to travel in an RV, so she needs to get rid of her stash. How can I pass up her treasures?

mindfulness-simplify-abundance

Fabric is also in abundance in my home, even though I have not done any serious sewing in years. And I have enough cookbooks to start a library.

I remember telling my friend Philip one day that I was going to go through my kitchen utensils to see what I could get rid of—how many spatulas do I really need? A few hours later, he sent pictures of two large trash bags he had filled after going through his closets (I had inspired him, he said). Meanwhile, I had pulled exactly one wooden spoon from my collection of kitchen utensils. Do I really need five spatulas? I know I don’t but getting rid of them seems to be beyond me.

I keep thinking of Patrick turning down Jim’s baseball cap and asking myself how many of anything I really need. I think of people who have so little—migrants, people whose homes were destroyed in fires or natural disasters, women fleeing abusive spouses—and I wonder how I can move things from my home to theirs.

Our local domestic abuse shelter has a second-hand store that supports their work; I will start taking my extras to them.

And, when I am tempted to buy something, I will check what I already have and ask myself how many?

Think of the money I will save, the space I will create and the freedom I will enjoy by living with less.

mindfulness-simplify-abundance
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Open the door

At Christmas Eve Mass, the priest asked us to recall a time when we had been the recipient of generous hospitality. He had been talking about the lack of hospitality Mary and Joseph experienced in Bethlehem, and then he shared a time he had experienced unexpected hospitality during a trip to Ireland.

The memory that came to mind was the time I had moved out of the l’Arche community feeling disillusioned and disappointed. My pride was wounded, and I was too distressed to make a decision about my next move. I felt let down and lost. After all, I had moved to l’Arche expecting to be there the rest of my life, and only a few months after arriving, I was leaving.

It took me a while to realize that my expectations had been way too high and to own why l’Arche did not work out for me. On the day I left the community, though, I was desolate.

Fortunately, the Sisters at the Benedictine Monastery invited me to stay with them for a week, which gave me a little breathing room.

A friend then invited me to stay at her house for as long as I needed. She would be away but her upstairs tenant (whom I knew) was looking after her house and there was plenty of room.

Unfortunately, the upstairs tenant did not share my friend’s generous spirit. She said I could stay for one night and then had to find someplace else. It wasn’t that there was no room, but rather that this woman was just inhospitable.

I felt so unwelcome that I did not even stay that one night.

Instead, I drove away discouraged and thinking that I would have to sleep in my car that night.

I had plans to meet a friend for coffee in the afternoon, and I was in tears by the time I got to the café.

Learning this latest development, my friend arranged for me to stay in her Mennonite community at the home of a young couple who had an extra bedroom. I moved in that evening.

I can still remember the couple opening their front door and inviting me inside. The welcome I received from this couple and the rest of the community was incredibly warm, and I immediately felt at home. The community shared everything they had; their attitude was that there is always room for one more.

It didn’t matter to them that I had no money or job, that I was spiritually and emotionally drained or that I had very little to contribute. They accepted me as I was and included me as a full-fledged member. They loved me back into wholeness, and I can still feel my heart swell with gratitude at their kindness toward me.

Their hospitality was what I wished for Mary and Joseph upon their arrival in Bethlehem.

I was grateful for the priest’s invitation to recall how blessed I was by generous hospitality.

What is your memory of hospitality?

God=hospitality-spirituality

Spread the Word

“And Jesus sternly warned them: ‘See that no one knows about this!’ But they went out and spread the word of him throughout the land.” (Matthew 9:30-31)

Jesus had just restored the sight of two blind men, healed them, and then tells them not to tell anyone. The blind men, in their joy, ignored his instructions to remain silent.

I have been healed so many times, of so many things, and blessed in innumerable ways. And although Jesus never told me not to tell, I have basically kept most of those things to myself.

When people have asked me to share something about my spiritual experiences, my attitude has usually been, “this is my experience; get your own.” I feared sharing my story, feared judgment and skepticism. “Who does she think she is to be so blessed? Isn’t she the Madeline who grew up on the east side of Detroit? What makes her think she is so special that God would bless her so abundantly?”

Years ago, on the first night of a graduate school class on the Mystics, the professor divided us into small groups and told us to share our mystical experiences. The room was completely silent for a few minutes, and I finally broke the silence in my small group. “Ok, I’ll start,” I offered. I then shared a mystical vision I had had a few years earlier. Midway through sharing my mystical vision, I could see eyes widening. I trudged on to finish the vision and then said, “None of you has had that kind of mystical experience, right?” None had, and I felt my oddness. Who has mystical visions?

A few years later, I met a missionary priest who had lived in Central America and witnessed horrible atrocities. Upon returning to the States, he spoke openly about what he had seen. When I heard his story, I asked him how he got the courage to speak out. “God gave me these experiences so that I could tell others what is happening. It is my responsibility to share what I have seen,” he told me. “I don’t feel that responsibility,” I replied. “One day you will,” he predicted.

He was like the blind men in Matthew’s gospel, given new sight and spreading the word. I have been like the third servant in another story in Matthew’s gospel about hidden talents (25:14-30); out of fear, I have buried what God has given me.

During this Advent season, as I prepare to receive the new life promised at Christmas, I pray for the courage to be like the healed blind men and the missionary priest, to spread the word about the abundance of goodness in our world and the many ways God has blessed me.