Vol 13, Num 14 :: 2014.07.11 — 2014.07.24
Rob and I stopped by the local bar the other night to try to catch the end of the World Cup game between Costa Rica and the Netherlands, which had gone into a shoot-out. Our friend Tim, whose parents were born in the Netherlands, and our friend Ricardo, whose mom grew up in Costa Rica, were both there, sporting their team jerseys as the Netherlands pulled out the victory.
Do I sound like I know what I’m talking about? I don’t. While the dudes chatted about the game and I waited for a call about picking up pizza on the way to the family cottage, which had been without power all day, I met Ann. She’s back in town not just for her thirtieth high school reunion, but because she just bought a house here. Over the next couple of years, she’ll be slowly moving back to this side of the state where, she contends, the people are much friendlier. Anticipating her reunion, she wondered out loud why people avoid those sorts of events — why can’t we all just show up, with our failings and imperfections, and be together to care about each other and share with one another in our brokenness? Who cares if you’re divorced or poor or life just didn’t turn out the way you thought it would when you tossed that cap in the air as an 18-year-old? Right on, Ann. There’s just way too much shame in the world, both imposed from the outside and bubbling up from within, and our social institutions — schools, churches and so on — are right in the thick of it all.
And yet I also think of Mary — not the one at the bar, the one in the Bible — who “treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” Surely her secret was going to show itself, ready or not, within nine months of being “overshadowed” by the Spirit, but I’m compelled by this sweet image to consider whether there is room for us to hold onto our secrets sometimes, not out of compulsion or shame, but for the sake of a certain kind of pleasure — finding joy in being with ourselves, for example, or communing with an unseen Spirit or cultivating a rich imaginative life that doesn’t require an audience for validation.
In a world of tell-alls and reality television and Twitter and Facebook and Big Data, keeping a few things to ourselves might constitute a form of rebellion that is actually a mark of sanity. It might also demonstrate a healthy reckoning with our mortality as we find contentment in abandoning memorable moments to the fully biodegradable finitude of our human brains — no Instagram, no journal, no oral tradition to keep them alive into the future after that 98.6 degree incubator bites the dust.
Surely some secrets weigh down on us like chains, cutting into our daily lives until we can no longer function, and figuring out how to loose those chains is worthwhile work indeed — maybe even a matter of survival. But I would also argue for the value of the liberating secret, the secret that is a moment of playful unselfconsciousness or pure fantasy. As we remember how to receive the gift of unconditional love in striking, off-the record encounters with beauty and joy, may we also become those things to others with a twinkle in our eyes and a permeating awareness that what you see is never all you get.