Intimate Strangers: What We Tell, and What We Withhold


A secret, as we know, is the withholding of confidential information. And secrets can be hard to keep. We are perhaps familiar with the feeling that we might explode if we can't reveal a secret, and therefore possibly needing to go down to the lake, or clutching a mirror, and whispering our secret to our reflection. 

Family secrets can happen either within or between families, andAnd All is Always Nowhas some of each. It is not uncommon, for example, for siblings to tell each other information that they do not want their parents to know, so this would be a secret within the family. In other cases, everyone in the family knows a secret - perhaps they were all involved in it together, or alternatively felt the trust to confess to each other - but they do not want anyone else outside the family to have knowledge of this. 

But why do some families have secrets? There are probably a multitude of reasons, but perhaps a powerful one involves having been lured by temptation to do something forbidden or shameful. Yes; seen this way, it gets us right back to the Garden of Eden and the Original Sin.

But is the thing that was forbidden based on value judgments? And are these from within the family, or from the norms of society as a whole? Clearly, at either the familial or societal level, we do not want to inflict harm on another. But things might become murky. For example, if it is from within the family, such as "you must never see this person again," it could be biased and possibly based on a history of inaccuracies. And is society free from bias? No; it sets its cultural norms, but as we know, these change and evolve over time. Witness gay marriage.

The keeping of a secret could be because of fear of the outcome if the secret is confessed. But then this gets us into the entire dilemma of the road not travelled. What will happen if I tell the secret? Do I have a moral obligation to confess all, especially to a loved one? And if I do tell, will everything I hold dear unravel and leave me with nothing? Will I lose what and who I love the most? But what will happen if instead I continue to hold on to the secret? Will it always be an impediment to the full flow of our relationship if I don't tell? 

Often it takes courage to reveal a secret, with no certainty of the interpretation and reaction of the other who hears it for the first time. In And All is Always Now, the protagonist Lance told his family secret to Florence well before she confessed hers to him. Lance did so, despite his obvious pain caused both by the terrible memory of the traumatic event and also because of the fear that he might lose her. But Florence did not have the courage to reciprocate, and instead clung tightly to her secret until a later time, when she felt desperate about their relationship.

Of course another aspect of the keeping of a secret, is that rather than being confessed, it could be found out. This also happens in And All is Always Now, to characters other than Lance and Florence, and if the person who discovers the secret is infuriated or unstable, it could lead to dire consequences.

It might be a secret, but do you have a secret?