No one will have any secret
No one will tell any lie
Things that we’ve done in hiding
Are gonna reach to the highest sky
— Annie Herring, “No One Will Have a Secret”
A friend of mine almost died Sunday. He was just finishing work when he knew something wasn’t right. He drove to an emergency room, where he passed out as he had a heart attack.
Doctors told him later that he was clinically dead for at least two minutes — and the work to revive him went on for nine minutes before it was clear he would live. If he had been anywhere other than a hospital, he would have died.
My friend’s experience reminded me of some study I’ve been doing lately about people who go through “near-death experiences.” One of the common features I’ve heard from the people who describe such experiences is of being in a place where everybody knows what they have ever done or thought or said.
In many of these stories, the subjects say that the people to whom they had lied or hidden things in life were completely aware of everything. There were no secrets — and they found themselves experiencing the pain they caused for other people.
In the weeks since I first encountered these stories — some in books and some on YouTube videos — I’ve found myself wondering uncomfortably how I would feel if this is really true.
I’ve realized that I would be ashamed if you knew many of my secret thoughts.
I’m not proud of this, of course. It makes me question whether I’m really what I think I am. I like to see myself as a good and decent person who wouldn’t do things to harm others. (That’s my egotistical need to justify myself, naturally.)
But how good is a person who is proud of how he acts for other people to see but knows he would be ashamed if they knew what he thought in secret?
I often feel as though there are a dozen or a hundred different people living inside me. I don’t mean in the sense of having multiple personality disorder, of course. I just mean there are competing forces and desires within me — each seeming to have a will of its own — and those forces battle to become the supreme “executive” for the rest.
I know who I think I am. Although I’ve changed radically over the years — as I’ve learned more about myself and the world around me — I have a firm sense of what I stand for and what kind of person I want to project to the world. But other forces inside seem to have different agendas.
I want to love everybody. I want to be kind and understanding of others. I want to have patience and overlook things which I resent in others. But no matter how much I determine that this is who I want to be — that this is who I’m going to be — those other parts of me come out at times.
I get angry with other drivers in traffic. (I’ve actually found myself getting angry at people for doing things I probably would have done in their positions.) I get angry with other people who don’t see the world the way I see it. They seem like idiots to me, even in cases in which I might have once agreed with them about those very things years ago.
More than anything, I get angry and defensive and hostile toward those who have hurt me. Or who might hurt me. Or who I fear might want to hurt me.
The parts of me which have been hurt in the past are eager to notice every little thing someone might do or say to make me suspect he’s going to hurt me. If I just suspect bad motives or the possibility of actions or words which might hurt me, there’s a part inside that’s ready to lash out like a caged animal.
On the outside, I’ve learned to hide those things. I know how to act like a kind and gentle and decent person — almost all the time. But I can’t seem to stop the thoughts which would shame me if you knew about them.
I sometimes find myself spontaneously hatching a plan which would hurt someone who has hurt me. I’m not going to carry the plan out, but some part of me wants to do it. I think about how I could do this or that little thing — secretly, so nobody would ever suspect my involvement — and it would hurt someone who’s hurt me.
For the most part, I just accept such fleeting thoughts as a part of being human. But as I’ve been thinking lately about this notion of everybody — including God — knowing every thought or feeling I’ve ever had, I realize how ashamed I would be of myself if you knew these dark thoughts.
I have an idealized vision of what it’s possible for a human life to be. I do realize that my standard of perfection — for myself and sometimes others — is ridiculously high. I don’t really see any evidence that I’ll ever be half as good a person as I want to be. I don’t see how anybody else’s heart and mind can be as pure as I’d like it to be.
But in moments such as these — when I think about what it would be like to have others know my thoughts — I feel as though I have to find a way to do better than this.
I want to be completely consistent between what I present on the outside and what you never see on my inside. I know that isn’t possible. Not really.
But when dark thoughts go through my mind — and a part of me wants to hurt someone who’s hurt me — I know I have to do better. I’ll never be perfect in this life, but I have to walk a little closer every day to becoming the man that I know I ought to be.
The hardest battle we fight in life isn’t with other people. It’s with the untamed fears and dark passions inside which would destroy us if we allowed ourselves to follow the way of this world.