A few days ago a friend asked me what I had learned on my recent trip to Belgium and I told him that I discovered just how good my family is at keeping secrets. But does this make my family special? Doesn’t every family have more than its share of secrets?
And really, some of the things that I found out for the first time–stories of alcoholism, violence–both physical and emotional, infidelity–are these kinds of secrets necessarily bad? After all, there are reasons to keep secrets and sometimes it is to protect people from being hurt.
Still, I keep thinking about this word: secrets, and how it struck me as the major theme of my trip. I now realize that just by using that term, I was holding on to a fantasy about my family, in particular, my parents’ marriage. I wanted to believe that there was a Garden of Eden period for them, a time, no matter how brief, when my parents were happy and truly in love.
I don’t believe that time ever really existed. But clearly, it was important for me, on a subconscious level, to hold on to that myth. (I’ve spoken to my brother and sister some during the past few months and my impression is that they see my parents far more clearly than I do.) The more I delve into my family history, the more sadness I find. But I am not afraid to look at it now. And the most important word–or theme–for me has nothing at all to do with secrets.
Instead, it is about something more complicated and difficult: compassion.