The power of secrets

Written by on October 4, 2011 at 8:18 am

When Todd first asked me to speak at MS Challenge Walk 2006, I was flummoxed. It was only my second year walking; I couldn't imagine why anyone would want to listen to my tale. More important, I couldn't even figure out what that tale was! "Hi, I'm Ken. My mom has MS, and … I walk." What more is there than that?

To help get the creative juices flowing, Todd put me on the phone with Steve, the chapter's communications guru. Steve probed me with questions, prompting me to reveal something that someone else might actually find interesting. He was probably getting as frustrated as I was with my dull answers until he asked, "What was your family's reaction when you told them you were going to walk 50 miles?" I shrugged (not that Steve could see it). "They didn't react," I mumbled. "Why not?" "Because I didn't tell them."

Apparently, it's unusual for a son to walk fifty miles for his mother without telling her. Who knew? So I stood before a thousand walkers and crew, told my story — and was astonished at how it resonated with the audience. Several walkers came up to me afterward and asked, "Are we brothers? Because I'm sure that was my mom you were talking about up there."

I've since had the opportunity to relate aspects of this tale at several different Challenge Walk events. Every time I do, I'm sure by now my story has become old hat — yet I never cease to be surprised at the connections it brings about.

When I got home from this year's walk, I found two Facebook messages waiting for me. One was from a young woman I'm not sure I remember meeting on the Cape. She wanted some of the improved communication between me and my mom in her own life: "I just wanted to say how inspiring your speech was on Friday night, and I called my mom Sunday night to see what she's using for treatment and how her symptoms are." Another crew member, whose story I thought I knew (just like I thought I knew mine, before I started walking), sent me a similarly surprising note: "Your remarks made me tear up. My mom didn't like that I was fundraising for NMSS when I started either, 9 years ago."

I always look forward to the end of the Saturday night candlelight ceremony, because I know at that point, I'll have shed my last tear for that year's Challenge Walk. I didn't know the powerful emotions I find on the Cape could so easily resurface upon hearing these other tales that are so much like mine.

Sharing secrets fosters intimacy, and telling the tale of my family has made the Challenge Walk community into my extended family. But confiding secrets has another hopeful, inspiring result: it lets you know that you are not alone. For every person who struggles with MS, directly or otherwise, there is someone else who has been, or is, where you are now. I was recently given a tangential reminder of this truth by this PostSecret video:

There's no denying it: MS is scary. But when we come together to shine our collective light on it, we can see that it is just as scared of us — because it knows its days are numbered.

Of that, I make no secret.

Ken joined the MS Challenge Walk in 2005, more than a decade after his mother was diagnosed. After walking for three years and 150 miles, he switched to the support crew and now rides his bicycle along the trail, providing whatever encouragement (and snacks!) he can to the 600 walkers. He is also an alumnus of the event's steering committee and is this site's webmaster.

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