In 2005, Frank Warren started the Post Secret project. He sent out 3,000 blank postcards and asked their recipients to follow three simple steps:
1. Tell a secret you've never told anyone.
2. Be creative.
3. Mail it back.
The response was explosive. I had heard about Warren's book when it was first published in 2007, but I saw the book with all the postcards for the first time last week when one of my students brought it in for me. Reading random strangers' secrets felt forbidden, but it was so cathartic. Some secrets were funny, some were heartbreaking, and some were heartbreakingly funny. However, the common theme in all the postcards was that it laid out peoples' flaws. They all got something off their chests anonymously that they were so scared to share, if it could be connected to them. I immediately connected. I can think of several things I have never, and will never tell anyone because I'm SO afraid. I just know that the minute I shared my secret, someone would judge me. I mean, I have best friends--dear friends who know intimate details of my life. But there are just some things I think we all feel sure would shock even our closest confidantes. Those are the secrets we bury deep inside. They're the secrets we cover up by finding a million things to keep our minds busy, so we can pretend like it's really not there.
Middle schoolers have those secrets, too. Middle school and middle adolescence is a time in life when we're the most vulnerable. We still have to rely on the adults around us, but we want to be adults so badly. It's when we start to make adult decisions and probably feel the repercussions of those adult decisions, both positive and negative. So I thought it might be good to share Post Secret with my students. Last Thursday for our bellringer, I shared the book with my classes. I read them some of the secrets and gave them one requirement--be honest with yourself. I told them they didn't have to share their secrets with me. They could rip them up, burn them when they got home, whatever they wanted.
However, I did have several students turn in their secrets anonymously. And when I say several, I mean the majority. When I got home from school, I read all the secrets my students shared with me. I sat down in my living room and read all those secrets with tears pouring down my face. I can't share their secrets, because it would break their confidence, but I can tell you that you can never read a kid by their cover. Why did so many of my students want me to read their secrets? It's the same reason I wrote down my own secrets. We just need to get it out. We need to feel like we can get rid of our darkest places. Sure, they're still there. The things we've done or the thoughts we hate that we have are still there, but knowing that someone else took part of our pain makes it just a tiny bit better.
I took a little bit of that pain from my kids, and I wish I could take all of it. So what I learned from this activity is this: Don't be afraid to take a deep breath and just let it all out. We need to share and grow and move forward, and we can't do that by bottling up the things that hurt us or kill us slowly everyday. So find a person or a piece of paper or a postcard--whatever you need, and let out a little bit of pain. It'll make tomorrow seem so much more doable than today.