“My name is Frank, and I collect secrets.”
Not a bad opening line if universal intrigue is the goal. But to me, the idea of keeping secrets can seem a bit juvenile. It brings up ancient memories of elementary school crushes and clandestine video-gaming sessions behind parents’ backs. Why keep secrets other than to get away with harmless bits of childish pleasure? People can’t possibly be carrying immense loads of emotional information they’ve never shared … right?
Frank Warren’s literal mountain of secrets written on postcards sent from all over the world would beg to differ. My privileged and relatively uneventful childhood must have buried whatever secrets I have too far from my immediate consciousness.
Warren has spent the last decade as one of the world’s primary keepers (and sharers) of secrets. What began as a hometown initiative to learn more about himself and those around him by personally soliciting secrets from strangers is now a vast collection of stories, feelings and bits of wisdom that has quite literally changed lives, all of it mailed anonymously to Warren’s home address and then posted weekly on his blog.
As it turns out, secrets are not just for children and cheaters. Everyone holds on to things they have never found the right time to share, or the right person to share with. Warren has devoted his career to bringing out those secrets so that they can be used to break down insidious mental walls and connect people on a large scale. Sometimes just having the knowledge that one is not alone in any kind of struggle can be the best form of comfort. The knowledge that others have pulled through can be the best reason to maintain hope. Knowing there are others makes the burden feel a bit lighter.
Warren was at first surprised by the profound impact his simple project could have. He pointed to one postcard in particular as the turning point for his realization. Scrawled over a picture of a damaged door were the words: “The holes are from when my mom tried knocking down my door so she could continue beating me.”
Warren empathized with this chilling divulgence on a very personal level, and so did many readers of his blog. Within days of the posting there were dozens of responses, many of them detailing similar domestic experiences. PostSecret quickly became a catalyst for the types of comfort and healing only community can provide, as well as a public forum that can foster a truly effective catharsis. Not only can a postcard-sender get troubles off their chest; they also have the opportunity to help others in need.
Of course, not every postcard falls under the category of “troubles.” Many reveal the startling amount of endearing hilarity that exists in our lives. Take the middle-aged father who confessed to stealing his son’s weed, or the girlfriend who never told her partner that she peed on him when they showered together, for example.
Romance is one of the most common themes. In this week’s post, Warren received a message in a bottle which reads, “I think you are my soulmate but only time will reveal the truth. I’m falling in love with you and I can’t wait to see what will happen between us.”
Among the blog’s millions of regular readers, imagine all the potential lovers who were given some glimmer of hope or even a dose of courage from that one picture of a postcard. It could have been sent by anyone, which is exactly the point. These secrets are not about one-off scenarios experienced only by certain individuals. Instead, they are universal pieces of the human experience that are hardly secrets at all. If we recognize that, it brings everyone closer together.