This week, dear readers, I want to really, truly, formally, in-the-oh-so-nerve-wracking-way, to journey with me for a bit. Would you think about a question, something you want to ponder with me? Something that you wonder about in your life, something you want to sit down and talk about over peppermint mochas? And would you think about sending it my way? I’m trying to practice this big dream of mine, and I would love your help.
This note is long overdue and I would much prefer a conversation over coffee, but seeing that that isn’t possible… I want to write, I do, someday maybe even teach, but I never know how much of my life to share and how much to keep private. Hilary, how much do people want to know? How do we make sense of past suffering when it is oh so private but oh so part of who we are today? I don’t know.
I’ve been thinking about your question this week. It came during a time in the week where I happened to be thinking about giving up talking about boys for Advent. In the weeks where we prepare for Christmas, I thought that it might be a good idea to fast from the long, wandering conversations I have with myself about my singleness and whether that boy likes me or whether I like them. I have shared it with too many people at this point anyway, I thought to myself as I drank orange juice at 10:15 while sitting at my office desk. Not everyone needs to know what you long for. Not everyone wants to know that you wonder whether you’ll ever get married. It’d be better to keep it private.
Those thoughts rolled around in my head, and then I got your beautiful question, and I wanted to write to you (and to me, since both of us are in this together), and in some way tell you (and me too) that we should share more.
An immediate caveat: sharing doesn’t mean that everyone needs every detail. This isn’t all or nothing, where to open the door to a personal conversation means you are required to reveal everything that ever happened. You are allowed to choose how you tell this story.
We are tempted to think that if we keep some details from some people, we have somehow cheated the system. Whether you draw a detailed penciled sketch of the story, or only a rough outline, is up to you. And you know the story best; you’ll know the details that aren’t needed and the ones that are. You’ll practice this discernment each time you go to tell a story. You’ll get better at it. When you are a teacher and a writer you will practice it with each word. You will ask yourself, “why do I want/need/feel in my gut that it is right to say this?” Let that voice be a guiding star.
After all, you want to share the story for a bigger purpose than getting it off your chest. You want to share your suffering, your triumph, your loss and your gain, for the bigger purpose of sharing your self. You want to give people a window into you. You ask me how much people want to know? I will tell you what I have found: people worth revealing yourself to are the people who care about the story because you’re in it, not because it’s juicy or difficult or there’s a great twist at the end. The people who will love your story best will be eager to make as much space for your story as you want it to take up. They will be patient as you unfold it slowly before them. They will love what you share and what you keep private.
But the bigger purpose of being known by others, of letting them in on how you have become who you are?That is always worth doing. We aren’t here to keep the wonder of who we are hidden away. We aren’t here to remain apart from each other. We aren’t supposed to sail out onto a dark ocean utterly alone. No, Privacy, I think we’re supposed to do the opposite. I think we are supposed to shine beacons of light to each other with our stories. You know that feeling, too? We can say to each other as we lament about our singleness or our lack of work or our student’s inability to write a research paper. You aren’t alone. I’m here, too.
Together, sharing our selves, our lights will blink back and forth across this vast ocean of living: a promise, and a hope.