It is a beautiful Spring day in Portland, Oregon. I turn in my chair to look out the big skylight in my office. A stately dark green Maple tree is perfectly framed. Honey bees are busy visiting the small cream-colored flowers. The sky is that color of blue that reminds me of the sea above a shallow coral reef. I check in with my heart. My heart checks in with me. The clear message is that I want to go for a walk. I have a lot of work to do in the office. My heart wins. I put on my coat. I open the door. I start walking.
Though it is still early morning, the sidewalks are quickly filling up with others who are similarly drawn to the cool air…to the lilac bushes…to small butterflies. They are walking.
One of the benefits and accompanying drawbacks of being a therapist, is that I find myself extending my emotional self to people I do not know. Simply put, I want to know how their day is going. I want to know what their stories might be. It is an interesting, genuine, and regular exercise in empathy. A man in his 60’s with a poodle on a leash, passes by me. A bike messenger with a lock in his back pocket whirs past. Two men, each holding coffee mugs walk together without talking. A young person with a cardboard sign sits on the corner, rolling a cigarette. Good morning people of Portland, I think to myself.
I walk and silently try to connect with who these people are. I begin to wonder who of them is holding a secret deep in their heart. Something that they have never told anyone else. A thought, an occurrence, an act so closely guarded, that it has never seen the light of day. I surmise that these secrets are likely of two types. One type of secret feels positive, life-affirming, and undeniably buoyant. On the other end of the secret spectrum are those things that feel dark and scary…that have an alliance with fear and guilt and shame.
I pass by a woman dressed in the garb of a UPS driver…brown shorts and shirt, black work shoes. She jumps out of her delivery truck with exuberant purpose. Across the street is a man in a wheelchair, reading a book. His shoulders slump. Above me is a window washer on scaffolding, working exceedingly slow and bent over. The way they hold their bodies, how they move, where their eyes are cast, the swing of their arms, the colors they wear.
It occurs to me that gravity and closely guarded secrets, and the human body have forged a strange alliance. I begin to wonder about the molecular weight of secrets.
Perhaps the UPS driver knows a happiness that she has never shared with anyone… the lightness of Helium. The man in the wheelchair carries hidden within, a story about a war atrocity…the weight of Mercury. The window washer is the only person in the world that knows about his marital infidelity…the magnitude of Uranium. Each secret bears down upon the holder with a weight commensurate with it’s place along the joy/shame continuum…in the periodic table of elements. The relative lightness of being or the burdensome weight of each person’s held secrets cannot help but be felt by the bearer.
As I round the corner of another city block, I emerge from my thread of thought. I look at my watch. I meet with a Client in 30 minutes. So, I make my way back to the office.
One hour later, I am sitting with a young woman with downcast eyes who hesitates in her story and looks up at me.
“There is something I have never told anyone.” She says. “The burden of carrying this for 7 years by myself is overwhelming.”
She begins to cry. She shakes her head. Her eyes reach out to me. I let her heart thought sink into my heart space. I too hesitate. “How much does it weigh?” I ask her. “It feels so heavy.” she responds.
I exhale deeply. I look out my skylight at the thick-trunked Maple tree, at the bees, at the cumulus clouds floating above the azure sky of Spring. How much does it all weigh?
Jeffrey Post-Holmberg is a regular contributor to River Notes Blog, at Two Rivers Counseling. When he is not making smoothies with weird green powder in them for his family, he busies himself considering metaphorical molecular weights.