Honesty is not always easy. I was reminded of this the other day when my brother talked to me about a question he asked me when he was little. The question was, “Is there a heaven?” Having fallen away from my Catholic upbringing by then, I was pretty sure that this Earth – beautiful, maddening, unfair, exhilarating – is all there is. But he was young, and his concern was with trying to wrap his head around the very big idea that we stop existing in this form. I didn’t think I would be doing him any favors by coming out with my worries about the end of conciousness at that stage in his life.
Lapsed Catholic or not, the nuns I spent 12 years with did a really good job of drilling it into me that there isn’t just one story you tell in one place and another you tell in another. There is objective Truth with a capital T. They framed it in terms of “God sees all,” but long after I stopped believing that that’s true, I did continue to believe that there is one universal karma for whether we tell the truth. There’s a saying in Spanish: you can’t hide anything from the sun. (Or, as I heard Gary Johnson say the other night: “If you always tell the truth you never have to remember anything.”). Lying and thinking it will be forgotten and won’t come back to haunt you is silly. It may seem expedient at the time, but it always makes things so much worse later. I try always to tell the truth, especially to my loved ones, even when it’s hard.
I was afraid that if I just gave my brother some platitude and didn’t give him an answer I could be proud of when he came back as an adult to hold me to account, I would always be sorry. So I told him a story from one of my own favorite books in childhood, A Wrinkle in Time, in which 3 of the central characters were once human but, after death, became stars. I thought that was a poetic way of explaining the circle of life. It soothed his need for reassurance and my need to tell the truth. Because we do come from star stuff and will go back to star stuff, eventually.
There are truths. But then there are truths that it may be too soon to reveal, or which aren’t yours to tell. For example, with my brother, I thought it was too soon to tell him my own fears about death, because I wanted him to mature a few more years until he could deal with the enormity of the issue. In other instances, you may been uneasy keeping a secret or not outing someone in a lie, but it’s just not your story to tell. Always, I grapple with this idea that there is only one “book” in which all your deeds are recorded (a story the nuns pushed hard), and I’ve always tried to be true to that.
Am I some paragon of virtue? Of course not. I lapse. I make bad choices out of fear or selfishness, like we all do. I don’t always live up to my highest ideals. But I try every single day, and that involves telling the truth as I see it, including here, with you. Thanks for being here while I do that.