Fascination with human misfortune. We’re all eaten up with it. The other day, there was an accident on the Interstate that runs through this corner of my state. The accident was in the southbound lane, with no wreckage or emergency vehicles impacting the northbound lane whatsoever. Yet, the traffic in the northbound lane was backed up for four miles. One has to wonder why. Caution on the part of the drivers? Drivers stopping to help? No, the reason for the traffic pile-up was curiosity and the desire to “be there”. You know…”Oh the accident on 540? Yeah, I was there. You should have seen that SUV! It was upside down and the top was smashed completely flat!” When it’s someone else’s misfortune, we want to see it and have it known. That’s why the news media is inundated with disaster stories; why the great majority of their output is about the misfortune of persons of interest.
Why is it that we have a right to know when it is someone else feeling the icy touch of tragedy, but we want the right to privacy when the adversity is our own? We do everything we can to shield ourselves and the ones we love from the exposure of public scrutiny, but we are happy to learn the gory details when the disaster doesn’t touch us at all. I’m not sure that I understand it, but I certainly know it to be true. You see, personal secrets are one of those very strange subjects that are viewed in such very different light, depending on the angle of one’s view. I hereby declare my right to keep from you any secrets that I desire to remain hidden. I will not confer on you the same right. Secrets belonging to others should be exposed whenever discovered, right?
As a side-note, I will admit that the onus of secrets shared by others is sometimes an excessive burden for me. It happened over thirty years ago, but I remember it as if it was yesterday. The first week in December of 1979, Bernie’s girlfriend came into the music store. “I need to get Bernie some drumsticks. Do you know what size he always buys?” Well, of course, I knew that! Bernie bought sticks frequently, since he was a rather advanced and in-demand drummer, and even taught a few lessons to supplement his income from the low-paying gigs he was able to schedule. I sold her the Regal Tip Jazz sticks ($4.50 plus tax) and she was gone, with a quick remark which I was to recall later, though not in a timely manner. “He’ll be surprised.” A week of so later, Bernie and his girlfriend were in the store again. “Oh! Were those the right sticks she picked up for you last week, Bernie?” I blurted. The knives in her eyes could have inflicted mortal wounds, but Bernie laughed uncomfortably. “I think they were supposed to be a surprise, maybe?”
I wish it were the only gaff I could report in my history of keeping secrets, but there are others. Alas, I suffer from a disease common to folk of my ilk. I am a talker, a conversationalist, constantly in search of pertinent material to fill the empty spaces. While thinking on one’s feet is a desirable trait for such talkers, wisdom in selection of the material shared is frequently not a strong accompanying trait. While flipping though the mental files which are germane to the subject being spoken to, at times an important post-it note on said mental file is overlooked temporarily. You already know that I am painfully aware that words spoken cannot be unspoken. “I’m sorry,” won’t stuff the offending words back in Pandora’s box, no matter how sincerely intended. I am finding, as I age, that I am finally developing a capacity to keep quiet about the really important matters entrusted to me, but the less weighty confidences are still a little like smoke in the wind. I’ll keep trying to do better.
I would also like to be able to tell you that my penchant for revealing secrets is proof that I harbor no secrets of my own. I would like to tell you that, but it would be a falsehood. There are circumstances in my private life which I will not discuss, because there is potential embarrassment, potential hurt, potential damage to relationships. There are also truths which are simply not for public consumption, and therefore, will remain private and guarded. Knowing this about myself, I am not sure why I am surprised when I hear, as I have on more than one occasion within the last week, about deep secrets, unhappy truths in the lives of people I know and some I love. I have accepted the facade, the public face for so long that the ugly truth that resides behind it is a shock when exposed. It would be no different if you could see behind the curtain of my existence. By now, it is cliche to quote that humbug of a wizard who has tricked Dorothy and her friends into believing his publicity, but it is the desperate cry of every one of us. “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”
I am coming to understand finally (I tell you, I’m not a quick study), that most of my friends have sorrows they never will share; many of my family members are hiding hurts they cannot put into words. This knowledge is changing the manner in which I look at people who cross my path everyday. I understand a little better that each has burdens which are unbearable, secrets which they fear will be exposed at any moment. I don’t know specifically how to help with their burdens, but I have it on good authority that there is One who does. I also understand that He left instructions for us to get some practice at helping each other with these wearying loads, in spite of our own personal needs. I’m thinking that just realizing that the load is every bit as heavy for them as for me is the beginning of a change of heart on my part, of a desire to assist. It turns out that the phrase I utter countless times a day to my customers is exactly what all of us need to be saying…just a little more purposefully.
“May I help you?”
“Come unto Me, all you who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest.”
“Carry each other’s burdens. In this way you fulfill the law of Christ.”