When I pulled the perfect secret from my mailbox and looked at it, I didn’t understand, it because it had no words.
It didn’t appeal to me immediately because it lacked any confession that I could see. The secrets that do make the biggest impression on me are probably not what most people would expect. They can be funny and sad at the same time; they can be hopeful or reflect my own dark sense of humor. Here are three I’ll never forget.
“I steal small things from my friends to keep memories of how much I love them,” mailed on a photograph of a photograph.
“I WANT TO BE A SUPERHERO! I would use my power to take away your pain,” written in red next to a woman in an action pose.
“I hope your stupid wrapping paper collection catches fire and burns down your house,” written on a postcard wrapped in Christmas paper.
The perfect secret was not mailed to me on a postcard. It arrived as a rolled-up painting canvas, but that in itself did not make it very unusual. Even though I ask people to mail me anonymous confessions on postcards, regularly, creative people send me more like personal possessions with secret written directly on them. Among the postcards, secrets have arrived on a mask, bra, flip-flop, watch, purse, and shirt. They’ve also been mailed on seashells, naked Polaroid pictures, a Utah license plate, certificates of birth and death, a sonogram, even an uncooked Idaho potato with my home address and postage right on the skin. (The Post Office calls this, “naked mail”).
The painting of the young man and woman didn’t seem that meaningful to me the first time I unrolled the canvas. For me the most meaningful secrets come from strangers yet reveal secrets that we can see in ourselves. Maybe you have come across one of your secrets written in another person’s handwriting. Or perhaps you felt less alone when you saw a postcard you mailed on Sunday.
I have had that experience. Looking back from a pyramid of postcards now taller than me, I can more clearly see some of the reasons I started PostSecret. I used to tell people I began collecting secrets because I had a boring job. That was partially true, but there was a deeper reason driving me, one I was unaware of at the time. I was building a safe community where anyone could reveal private truths because I needed to join and unburden myself.
As months passed, I began to understand the perfect secret as being more than likable or meaningful- it was transcendent. It was a painting showing trust, vulnerability, and courage- a place where secrets lose their power over us. It’s something I can feel at PostSecret Live! events when audience members courageously transform their secrets from walls to bridges, not anonymously but publicly. I saw it in the PostSecret app and heard it as a volunteer on Hopeline. It’s an idea I see in some of the private emails people send me, like these two:
“Frank, I made a PostSecret postcard with a drawing of my fiancé asleep and a message about changing the alarm to spend more time with her. She found it before I could mail it to you and now we spend more time together while awake too. Thanks.”
“Dear Frank, I am going to buy a piñata and invite my friends to put their secrets in anonymously. Then we can blindfold each other, beat the shit out of it, watch our secrets rain down, and read them like candy.”
For me the ultimate secret is this simple wordless painting expressing that sacred place where secrets are never born between people or within our hearts.