Finding the Art in Everything

15 July, 2008

Post Secret

On Sunday, I went to the PostSecret exhibit at the Brevard County Art Museum with Jen. She is one of several I know who subscribes to the updates from the website and owns the books. PostSecret explains itself as "an ongoing community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a postcard."

I went because I'll go anywhere the word "exhibit" is used, but I wasn't really ready for what I experienced. The exhibit was arranged in Plexiglas so you can see the ACTUAL cards, both front and back. It is one thing to have these cards show up in my Reader feed, but these were real. Real handwriting, real tape, real photos--real people.

You who are familiar with the weekly post have read enough of these to know how twisted and horrifying these are--seeing the postcards makes all that pain real. What is more, all of that hiding is real. I am scared of the kind of pain and hiding that motivates the mailing of one of these cards. I hate feeling their pain and the pain of having to keep these things secret. I feel so much of their shame. I quit reading the Sunday Secrets a few months ago because I found them so distressing. To see the real cards magnified that horror tenfold.

On the morning I went, I had a conversation with a friend urging her not to bury painful things, and then I came to this place where I could see what people are burying. Here, the reasons NOT to bury things were illustrated. I can't imagine that the pain of hiding these things is any less than the pain that would come from being seen with your secret. In fact, I wonder how much of the pain comes from the hiding of them. Furthermore, in their hiding, dark things become so much more toxic because they can't be evaluated by the light of love and truth.

The curator for the exhibit, and Frank, the collector of the postcards, mean for there to be something meaningful and beautiful in the courage that it takes these people to share their secrets. But unless we know to whom the cards belong, it is not really sharing. These people think they are freeing their secrets, but so what? What gives the secret its power is when it is owned, or if the secret is big enough, what the Secret owns. But seeing secrets without ownership is little more than spying on someone's shame. The secret itself does not have the power to free the person who feels forced to keep it.

Frank, the project guy said, "Some of the most beautiful postcards in this collection came from very painful feelings and memories. I believe each one of us has the ability to discover, share, and grow our own dark secrets into something meaningful and beautiful." The thing is, does mailing a postcard really transform pain into something else? Could that be possible?

When I looked at the postcards, I just saw hundreds of people who were still bound to their secret and all of the circumstances that comprise the secret. Frank says that it is cathartic, that it means something to put the secret out there. But I wonder if it does? Wouldn't the anonymity that is supposed to bring liberty actually strip it of its meaning? It seems like a really false freedom.

And then I wonder: Why don't those people have someone who loves them enough to bear their secrets?

I struggled to relate to this because I rarely have the urge to hide. I think this comes from having the deep-seated belief in an omniscient God. More than this, it is a God who, in His first exchange with people in their new tainted Genesis condition, calls them out of hiding. King David says of God, "O LORD, you have searched me /and you know me...even the darkness will not be dark to you; / the night will shine like the day, /for darkness is as light to you." I find it freeing to know that nothing can be hidden from where it could matter most to hide it. It is freeing because there is perfect Love to match that omniscience.

When we left the exhibit, I felt so heavy and deeply grieved. I am glad Jen went over the bridge to the beach. As I stood there letting the water wash over my feet, and felt the cool breeze, and smelled how fresh the air, I felt the heaviness lift. It was a really serene stretch of beach.

I read someplace that beauty can heal the deepest pain, so maybe that explains it. Maybe only something as beautiful as a late-afternoon beach, (and the surprise delight of seeing dolphins) can fill and bind up the the gashes that come from going through life.

Or maybe that is nonsense.

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