Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force…. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.
~ Karl Menninger
“Why don’t you tell me your secrets?”
Three years after our encounter, your words are still as clear to me as they were that afternoon of April 10, 2007. You see, no one had ever asked me that before. No one had ever tried to see what was beneath the confident, overachiever mask I put on to face the world. No one had even suspected that it was a mask.
But it was, and I was trapped beneath the pretensions. My spirit was dry, shriveled, exhausted. Lost, I longed for someone to find me, yet I was terrified of being exposed as a fraud. So I carefully weighed my options. You were a stranger — you had no expectations of me, no preconceived idea that I had to fulfill. If things went wrong, I could choose never to see you again for the rest of my life. And you seemed like a kindred spirit, someone who was familiar with grief. But most of all, more important than all these, was that I was desperate. I could not go on any longer with the terrible loneliness and the aloneness of being unknown by the people who surrounded me. So your invitation, simple as it was but with a wealth of kindness behind it, seemed like my only lifeline, my last shred of hope for redemption. With seven little words, you changed my life.
“Why don’t you tell me your secrets?” you said.
And I did. For the longest, most difficult two hours of my life, I poured out my guilt and my shame, my confusion, my fears, in barely coherent sentences and sobs that seemed to be drawn from the deepest, most wounded part of my soul. I exposed my heart to you, a stranger, knowing your response could either wound me or help me heal. And I’m glad I did.
You were wonderful. You listened carefully, with no judgment or condemnation, just perfect acceptance and a focused attention that told me you cared about what I was going through. You didn’t say very much, but what you did say cut to the heart of the matter and showed me what I desperately needed to know — that there might be a way out. For the first time in a long while I began to feel a little less helpless.
The journey’s far from over yet, but I know that it began that afternoon, with you. And when it gets too difficult, I remind myself of the miracle that led me to you when I needed you the most. The God who cared enough to make it happen is still by my side, still working on making me whole. And someday, it will happen. Someday, I will be healed. And I hope that along the way, I can also be to someone else what you were to me — a listener, a lifeline. A keeper of secrets. That is the only way I can think of to thank you for all you’ve done.