A Profound Secret


Who but a former English teacher would take such interest in the following quote from the beginning of Chapter Three of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities?

“A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it!”

I was enjoying a solitary walk at the mall recently when I started thinking about the other walkers I encountered. Despite the variety of ethnic backgrounds and nationalities, almost all of them were unfailingly pleasant. And why wouldn’t they be?

Even though most of us weren’t walking together, we shared a common activity. And we tended to greet one another as if we were old friends.

But then the Dickens passage quoted above came to mind. How much did I know about my fellow walkers? And how much did they know about me? Basically nothing. We were all limited to what we could see. Each of us was truly a “profound secret and mystery” to all of the others.

I hadn’t been working at Target very long–this was about nine years ago–when Anthony, one of my co-workers, pedaled his bicycle to the top of an interstate overpass, parked it, and jumped to his death on the highway below.  He was only nineteen or twenty.

His suicide was a shock to everyone who knew him. If anyone had any idea what led to that final desperate act, he or she didn’t share it with the rest of us.

Because the store personnel knew of my writing ability, they asked me to compose a brief obituary, which they framed along with Anthony’s picture and posted in a frequently traveled hallway. That was one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to write.

I barely knew Anthony. But if I’d known him better, it might’ve been even harder.

So I quoted the Charles Dickens passage and simply said that whatever had motivated Anthony was a secret. A mystery. Something we could never have seen from the outside. Or been able to prevent.

How I envy God’s ability to see inside the human heart–and the whole of every person’s being–and to understand those things we can’t know about one another. How much better our relationships with others would be if we could see them that clearly. And how much more effectively we might be able to help them.

If you have any thoughts on this subject, please share them in a comment.


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“On Aging Gracelessly” is only one of my two blogs. I post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years on  “As I Come Singing.” Check it out HERE if you’re interested.  Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. View the list HERE.

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