Our favorite game in junior high was Truth or Dare.
Nearly everyone at my Catholic school picked the Dare, even when playing the game in our most reckless venue of all--weekly Mass. (Years later, I've come to hope God possesses a good sense of humor. And a short memory.)
We believed choosing the Dare proved our confidence and our courage, two attributes that play heavily in a thirteen-year-old's popularity.
Even then though, I knew the Dare was the safer choice. Answering a difficult personal question with honesty? This required true bravery. At thirteen, we're far too guarded and insecure to open ourselves up to that transparency, vulnerability or potential peer disapproval. It's a self-defense mechanism which becomes even more ingrained as we grow older.
Hiding from the Truth is a game we play much of our lives.
When we confront difficult personal issues, we tend to evade. We conceal. We occasionally outright lie. Sometimes we're not honest with someone else. Sometimes we're not honest with ourselves. Denying certain Truths, especially troublesome ones, is always easier than acknowledging them.
On a night out a few years ago with a group of girlfriends, someone suggested a grown-up game of Truth or Dare. We quickly dismissed the option of Dare. What are we, kids? No, we most certainly are not. We laughed. Just as friends don't let friends drive drunk, middle-aged friends don't let middle-aged friends run outdoors in their skivvies.
The rules were simple: Each woman in the group would ask one question, and everyone had to answer. We agreed the questions should be thought-provoking yet benign. After all, we were out that night to relieve our stress, not to magnify it.
Choice of plastic surgery? Nose, boobs and all the usual suspects.
Biggest fear? We toyed with the common themes of flying, of tornadoes, of heights. But every one of us with children eventually gave the same answer.
Number of men with whom you've slept? Ah, maybe not such a benign query, this one! Of all the questions, it caused the most consternation and cringing. We tried to veil our surprise at the woman who answered "just one" as well as the woman who said she'd long ago lost count.
Then we came to my--seemingly mild--question:
If you could succeed at being anything in life (actual talent not a factor), what would you be?
We nodded and smiled at the responses: Broadway actress, singer/songwriter, president of the United States. We turned to the last friend in the circle, awaiting her answer.
"My dreams aren't as exciting as all of yours." She hesitated. "Because honestly, if I could choose to be anything, I'd still choose to be a housewife." She looked away, then added in a near whisper, "But I would want to be a happy one."
The table fell silent. None of us would ever have guessed her wish. Because most of us had no knowledge of her reality.
We weren't able to provide a solution to her situation. What we offered her that night was a roundtable of empathy and sympathy, and a bit of friendship-inspired therapy.
I can't be sure she's found peace even now, but just maybe she feels less burdened and less alone in facing the Truth. Maybe she's succeeded at the first crucial step which will allow her to face the next step, whatever that might be.
Truth or Dare is a tough game at any age.
But by daring ourselves to acknowledge one key Truth, maybe we can find answers to other important questions in the bigger game of life.
Have you ever lied to yourself? What's the most frightening or embarrassing Dare you ever accepted? If you could be anything, without the possibility of failure, what would you be?