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"Other Colors"
by Orhan Pamuk

by Nathaniel Philbrick

March 19, 2009


I was at work at an ironworks fabricating company when the phone rang. It was my mother-in-law’s doctor. He told me that my mother-in-law had cancer and it was too late to do anything about it. I can remember wondering why he had called me but later I thought it was probably the best thing. My mother-in-law had a paralyzing fear of cancer. Her youngest sister died of breast cancer and the women in the family, especially my mother-in-law, were just paranoid about the very word. It was decided that we would not tell her that she had cancer but would pretend that it was an ulcer. Now my mother-in-law was not a stupid person and I find it hard to believe that she didn’t at least suspect that she had cancer, but we never said the word in her presence. We all had a secret.

I always felt sorry that we weren’t able to talk about her illness. Since we were pretending that she had an ulcer, she had a restrictive diet, so she wasn’t able to eat the things she loved and we weren’t able to prepare her and ourselves for her death. She was a wonderful person and I wish we could have been more comforting to her. She died never talking with her children or husband about her illness.

My youngest sister and I were talking on the phone the other day and my sister said, “Secrets! Secrets are hard!” And they are. They are hard to keep – you have to remember who can know the secret and who you must exclude from the secret. You have to remember the story that explains the secret. There were six of us “girls” so there were secrets – from each other, from our parents, from the children, from the neighbors, from the church members, from people who wouldn’t understand, from people who talk too much and from people who would judge.

I am keeping at least four secrets that I can think of, and it can be a heavy burden. It is hard to keep a secret, at least for me. . . I like to talk too much. M is the world’s best secret keeper. I don’t even know if he has any secrets from me. No, I am not going to tell you any of the secrets. None of them are originally mine, so I must keep them. Sometimes it is hard to know why someone wants to keep their particular secret. It doesn’t seem that shameful or difficult but they are the ones who decide.

I have to remember, though, that God himself has secrets. Deut. 29:29 says, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and our children forever that we may follow all the words of this law.”

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