Welcome to podcast three of the “Growing Human Kindness” podcast. Today’s is inspired by a story that I was reading with my two youngest children, my boys, the other night.
This book is called “The Secret Keeper,” and it’s by Kate Coombs, and the paintings are by Heather M. Solomon. I love children’s books, and I love that I still have kiddos who are still little enough that they like to be read to. I like the deeper meanings and messages that are often in these children’s stories.
This particular story is about a woman named Kalli. Kalli is the secret keeper of her village. What that means is that people come to her and share their secrets with her. These are often secrets that they feel ashamed about. So the baker comes and tells her that he’d sell loaves for less than their full weight. Or someone might come and share something that they did that they were feeling shamed or saddened about.
Kalli listens to their secrets, and the villagers feel better and feel unburdened as the weight of their secret is shared with Kalli. In return, Kalli has this house filled with all these little boxes. After they tell her their secret, she’s left with a little token. Something that represents their secret. It might be a little pebble. It might be a little coal. Over time, as Kalli is keeping and storing all of these secrets in these little boxes, and the villagers keep leaving her home in the woods feeling lighter and lighter. But she is feeling heavier in her heart.
During the winter, Kalli actually becomes sick. She becomes sick, and doesn’t get out of bed. The villagers don’t notice until one goes to visit. They find Kalli very, very sick and in bed. They’re all concerned, so the villagers hurry to see what is hurting their secret keeper. The different people in the village have different ideas about what might be wrong with her. Then the blacksmith has an idea. He says, “Maybe we should tell her our secrets, but happy ones.”
So they all begin telling her their happy secrets. One young villager says that she’s expecting a baby. One young girl says that her mother and she like to dance in the meadow. And in the same way that when they told Kalli their secrets, that as she told them their secrets, and they left feeling lighter, and they would leave Kalli with a token, here too when they share their happy secrets they also find tokens. But these are things like butterflies, and robin eggs.
As they are sharing their happy secrets, Kalli starts feeling lighter, and starts feeling better. The villagers are feeling happy and feeling better. Then one last young man, the potter’s son, whose name is Taln, he comes, and he says, “I have a secret. I love the secret keeper.”
So the story ends with a wedding and a celebration. At the end of the story it talks about how Kalli is still the village’s secret keeper. She still has all these tiny drawers with their secrets, but every spring there’s a ritual. All the villagers come in the meadow, and they share their happy secrets.
I love this story for several reasons, and I think there’s a lot of layers of meaning that we can take from it. But a couple things that just really come alive for me when I listen to this story. The first thing was, of course, when I listen to Kalli’s story I thought, oh, she’s an empath. She’s highly sensitive and intuitive. She’s feeling and listening to all these people’s pain and secrets. Over time, that has worn down her soul.
In the winter in the dark, a time when she actually in the book talked about how she felt restored, instead she becomes sick. I think the same can be true for us. That when those secrets start to weigh heavily on us, when we start to feel like we are carrying other people’s burdens, it can weigh down on us. It can start to make us feel sick.
I think whether or not we have an official title as a secret keeper, as intuitive and sensitive beings, we are the people who tend to pick up on things that perhaps others don’t. We sense what isn’t said aloud, and we sense what people would like to keep secret. This can create some dissonance between what we are sensing and perceiving, and what people are saying. It’s like we’re living in two different worlds. Like Kalli, these secrets that we carry, they can start to feel like a burden.
So the healing that comes about for Kalli is when, first of all, they all start talking together. The secrets aren’t whispered in shame, one-on-one to Kalli, but their joy is shared. They lessen Kalli’s burdens by sharing all the good things and the joys of their life. So that she is just not carrying the dark and the secrets.
Of course, this happens in the spring. A season of new life, when darkness turns to light and new things grow and come alive. It’s a season of rebirth and hope. So of course, how fitting that when the villagers come to share their joys it is at the springtime. After the season of winter, after the season of loss and sorrow.
We can think of this story speaking to us on several different levels. Speaking to us as the secret keeper, and reminding us that it can be a burden when we’re carrying too much inside. Particularly when we feel that we’re carrying other people’s secrets. As well, I think the story we can also put ourselves in the place of the villagers, to remind ourselves that there is something powerful about sharing our joy.
I know it’s human nature, and certainly for me as passionate, and sensitive, and as intense as I am, I can really easily focus on what isn’t working. That’s what’s most noticeable for me, and it’s what I see and what I perceive. I actually have to make an effort to focus on what is working. I have to make an effort to share the joys. The happy secrets.
Like Kalli , if I’m only focused on the heartache, the sorrows, the things that are kept in the dark in these boxes, I can start to feel sick. My spirit can feel weary. For me that usually shows up as feelings of depression, feelings of anxiety, and feelings of self blame. But when I take the time to remember, and honor the new birth, the new life, what is working, the joys, like Kalli and the villagers I feel lighter.
It doesn’t mean that I’ll never be that secret keeper. That empathy, and sensitivity, and intuition is part of my nature, but I can bring it into greater balance. One way I can bring it into greater balance is by remembering and choosing to honor the good.
I invite you to reflect on that this week, and to even take a moment. Actually pause and think about what are the things that you can honor, that you can consecrate. It doesn’t have to be a big thing at all. For me, it often just takes a small moment of slowing down. When I step out of that urgent mind frame that I can spend a lot of my life in, where I’m always just trying to get things done, and move from one thing to another.
If I just stop, and pause, and really look into one of my children’s eyes. Or see the tumble of their shoes by the front door, and instead of being irritated at it, just see the length of all their little feet. My older kids, whose feet are as big as mine now, so they’re not little anymore, just in wonderment at these beings that I live with.
Really look into someone’s eyes, and just see the light and the humanity that’s there. Or to look up in gratitude for the moon. These things lighten our hearts and remind us that so much is working. Yes, the secrets are there. The heartache is there. And this joy is here, too.