Kaylia came to me the other day with a deep, dark secret – something about herself that no one must know, because she thought her friends would make fun of her. I listened to her pour her heart out, and promised not to tell a soul, but when she went off to play, I kept thinking about what would be the best way to help her through this.
A memory suddenly came back to me that I hadn’t thought of in years, and I remembered what it feels like to hide who I am, because the world doesn’t feel completely safe….
I was in grade nine, and the teacher gave us an assignment which had me feeling miserable. It sounded easy enough – choose your favourite song, copy the lyrics out, illustrate it and answer some questions about the meaning of the words. I knew I could do all of those things, except the first: choose a favourite song.
Junior high can be a hard place to admit truly liking anything, and music was especially a problem. I’ve always loved music, but I wasn’t allowed to listen to any of the music my friends listened to (for which I’m very thankful now, but at the time was not cool). I never spent any money on buying my own tapes, like my younger sister did, so I mostly contented myself with listening to her music, or whatever my mom was listening to. I knew that I could never use one of my mom’s songs for my project, because that would earn me unbearable amounts of ridicule, so my only choice was to find something from my sister’s music to use for my project. But since only Christian music was allowed at our house, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to find anything that would pass the scrutiny of my friends.
In a desperate attempt to choose something socially acceptable, I went with Steven Curtis Chapman – I guess it seemed like a good idea at the time. There was a song he did together with a friend who was a rapper, which was unfortunate all around, because Steven Curtis Chapman was most definitely not a rapper, and sadly, the song was called “Got 2 B Tru”, adding irony to the pretense of presenting it as my favourite song.
I remember feeling ridiculous about the whole thing as I got my page of lyrics out at school the next day, hoping no one would notice, but of course, my friend looked over and loudly burst out, “Got 2 B Tru?! What kind of stupid song is that???” Everyone turned to look at me, and added their own comments on my song selection, as I tried to make myself as small as possible in my seat, wishing I could disappear.
I went home and threw those silly lyrics in the garbage (no offense to Steven Curtis Chapman), and tried to figure out what to do. I decided to choose one of my mom’s songs that had a line in it that I’d always liked, and hope nobody would notice (no offense to my mom!). For the rest of the class time we spent on that project, I was careful to keep my paper covered and out of sight.
It was a huge relief when we moved on to a different assignment, but in some ways, I never really moved on. I chose to avoid music, even though I loved it, because the embarrassment of that experience didn’t fade much. I wouldn’t admit to liking anything, to avoid being mocked.
It kinda worked out okay, because when I started dating Ben, he was happy to share his large collection of cd’s with me, and always had music playing. I didn’t necessarily love his choice of music, but I didn’t dislike it, so for years, we listened to whatever he liked.
But one day, maybe about seven years ago, I was reading a blog post that included a song, and as I listened to it, I realized: “THIS is the music I like. If I would choose my favorite, it would be this style of music.” It was a strange feeling – I had never admitted to anyone, even myself, what I really liked. I’d never claimed anything for my own, and labelled it my “favourite”.
I didn’t share it with anyone – I felt like I needed to keep trying it out on my own, so when no one else was home, I’d listen to the song secretly. I wasn’t worried that Ben would make fun of me, or anything, it just felt so new and different to actually say I liked a song, instead of just listening to what everyone else listened to.
This went on for a couple of days, but one day, Ben came home and caught me. My song was playing, there was no hiding it anymore, and he asked, “What kind of music is this?!” He was obviously confused, since he’d never heard the song, and in all our years of being married, I’d never turned music on when I was home alone.
I explained how I’d come across it, and that it was the kind of music I actually loved most, and he wasn’t sure about it, but after awhile, he said he kinda liked it. So he set out to find every song he could that had a similar style, and made me a playlist which we called “Happy Music”.
Over the years, we’ve kept adding to our happy music, and now it feels funny to think there was a time when I wouldn’t let the music in, and claim it for my own.
And so I remember the feeling of hiding, and thinking it wasn’t safe to be real. I tell this story to my kids, and I know the typical moral of the story would be “Be yourself”, but I’m not so sure.
I want to tell Kaylia to be brave, to just like whatever she likes, and not be afraid, but at the same time, I know what it’s like to hold something so fragile inside yourself, it doesn’t feel right to bring it out where everyone can see.
There are times when it’s great to take a chance and open up, but there are also times when it’s okay to have a small inner circle, and smile mysteriously to yourself, knowing that your secrets are safe with just the close few. That’s also being true to yourself, for those of us who hold things a little closer. And so I like to use my story as a reminder to be kind. source
Be kind to yourself by understanding that it’s okay not to push yourself, if it just doesn’t feel safe or comfortable. I felt so mush pressure to reveal what I didn’t want to, and then guilt and shame as I tried to find my way through. Rather than feeling all those heavy emotions, I wish I could have simply seen myself as kind of private, or slower to reveal parts of my heart. There is nothing wrong with that.
I do truly value the idea of being yourself, but there’s also wisdom in discerning the right time and place for sharing from your depths. I don’t want to hide who I really am, but I’m okay with having many layers, and waiting, quietly holding some things in for a time, until they’re ready to come out, until I feel safe, until the layers have gently been pulled back.
And being kind to others can mean being a safe place where others know their secrets will be protected, should they choose to share them. If I know what it feels like to experience mockery and ridicule, then I know how important it is to be the one others can feel safe with. So be yourself, but take your time. Be gentle with yourself, and with others. Be the safe place where they can bring their secrets to the light, in their own time.