If you are a 20-something or 30 something year old co-ed today, you likely know about or have heard of Post Secret. In case you have no idea what I speak of, I’ll let Wiki explain…
“PostSecret is an ongoing community mail art project, created by Frank Warren in 2005, in which people mail their secrets anonymously on a homemade postcard. Selected secrets are then posted on the PostSecret website, or used for PostSecret’s books or museum exhibits.”
I found a copy of Post Secret book in Urban Outfitters some years ago, and I thought it was the most amazing, groundbreaking piece of expression I had ever come across. I read it cover to cover. Some of the secrets inside are
normal everyday things that most of us feel but would never share for fear of being looked at differently by our peers. In reality our peers feel the exact way. Some of the secrets, however, were heartbreaking – stories of abuse, addiction, and death are just a few of the taboo topics covered within the pages of this amazing collection.A childhood friend of mine reached out a few weeks ago looking for a (volunteer) photographer for an event being hosted by the Columbia Festival of the Arts (http://columbiafestival.org) at our local community college (and my nursing school alma mater – go dragons!). After some back and forth, coordination of changing details, I agreed to shoot. The event was a live production of Post Secret, where images of post cards were projected behind the actors on stage, who spoke the secrets out loud, while live music was being played in the background. The audience was encouraged to anonymously share their own secrets on post cards in the lobby to be used in future productions.
In the lobby after the show, people could pen their secret on a rather large white board, and I would take their picture. These pictures would be projected and shared in future shows.
I was not expecting to cry that night.
Cry I did. We got about 25-30 secrets shared, all of which were vulnerable, raw and honest. The wonderful thing I quickly realized about this event was that it provided a place for people to share their secrets without judgement or fear. For a few, I could tell that in sharing their secret, the weight of the world was lifted from their very tired shoulders. It was such an honor to bear witness to the amazing individuals who felt that their secret was important enough to share. I was working with a volunteer who helped people sign waivers and gave instruction about the white boards. She was really sweet, and I forget her name 🙂
One girl came up and stood silently for a moment, then decided she wanted to share. It was she who broke the flood gates – “For my whole life I felt like I was worth nothing – music has shown me that’s not true.” It wasn’t so much her secret that got to me, but more who she was. She’s the girl you see right through. The one in the back of the class in the tie-dye sweatshirt who never really has much to say. The girl who hangs her head when she walks in between classes avoiding eye contact, and who was most likely bullied her entire life. After reading her secret, the volunteer asked if she could give her a hug and she said yes. While hugging, the volunteer said something to her I didn’t quite catch, but the girl said “thank you” and began to sob. They stood in an embrace for close to a minute but it felt like 100 years. I found myself standing there swallowing tears as I watched what seemed like a lifetime of sadness and hopelessness dissolve. She walked away smiling, and if I’m not mistaken, she stood a little taller, looked a little happier and maybe felt just a little prouder of herself than she had for a long time.
I am so humbled to have been a part of something so visceral – people leaving the heaviest parts of themselves behind. Pieces of their souls that no one knew existed being released into the ether with the hopes of a very different tomorrow. Some secrets were big, some where small, but they were secrets none-the-less. A safe space was created in the Smith Theater lobby for people from all walks of life to share their amazing stories. I think my favorite part of that night was the reminder that at the end of the day, we all could use a hug sometimes. We are all fighting a battle no one knows about. We are all worthy of love, and we are enough.
Thank you to Diana, my friend of almost 20 years, for inviting me to take pictures, when really I was witnessing people expose their raw souls for all to see. Thank you to Frank Warren for creating a “crazy little side project” that has changed the lives of millions and made it ok to be human.
In the words of Ellen Degeneres…”Be kind to one another.”