I never learned the importance of keeping a secret until I became an adult. Secrets take root early. My little girl loves to come up to me and whisper in my ear, “I love you Momma. It is our secret.” I suspect she has no idea what secrets mean, but it is the act of whispering in my ear, I think, that appeals to her.
The act of telling a secret doesn’t change much as you grow older, only the way you communicate your secret. You can tell your secret over the phone, in person, and now with technology, the secret can be revealed over a text message or an email. No matter how a secret is conveyed, the same disclaimer applies, “please keep this between you and me.” As soon as someone says this, it is bait. You automatically want to tell someone. You want to call up your spouse or your parents and tell them what you just heard. The assumption is that because they are family and you are adding your own disclaimer of keeping it between you and them, you assume the secret won’t travel. Great theory, right? The temptation becomes for your family member, who you have sworn in strictest confidence, to tell someone else they think won’t confess it to another. Eventually there is no secret because another someone told another someone, and well, you get the picture.
I was told a secret four years ago by my father. It was about his cancer diagnosis. He was told he had non-small cell lung cancer and he didn’t want anyone to know except for his family. I told him that there was no shame in having cancer. I couldn’t understand why he wanted to keep his cancer secret. I urged him to tell his friends, but his resolve in keeping this secret was strong.
I later understood why he wanted to keep it a secret. It was the only thing he could control about his diagnosis. He also didn’t want people to feel sorry for him and he certainly didn’t want to set himself up for disappointment. He often told me, “If I told people this secret, what benefit would I derive from it? It is not like my cancer is going away.” He was right and I was wrong to urge him to confess his secret.
I take secrets more seriously now. I realize that secrets can be small or big or intense or silly, but each person’s secret is their own. Why they want something to be a secret is personal. As time passes by, my daughter will be telling me other secrets, wanting to confide in her mother, and I will certainly honor that little whisper in my ear.