I have spent the last few days helping my youngest unpack and set up her new Brooklyn apartment. And what a trip down memory lane! Especially when she started going through old journals. When she stopped to read and reminisce.
When I was 11, I read “The Diary of Anne Frank”. And even before finishing the book, I decided that I also needed to keep a diary. Yes, needed to keep a diary. That was when I discovered the refuge and release that writing became for me. And I kept them. All of those diaries, from the Hello Kitty diaries with little metal flimsy locks, to the leather-bound ones and cheapy spiral student notebooks. All of them, for decades. And I carted all those boxes of journals to England when I was in graduate school, to Russia and France. And there they sat. In boxes. Partly as a reminder of what writing is for me. Partly as a reminder of what I was and what I survived.
And then, after sitting in our San Francisco basement for seven years, we were gearing up for the move to Kazakhstan and there just wasn’t room to take all these journals. I had a decision to make. Keep? Or not keep? And one night, as the kids slept soundly upstairs, I knew it was time.
I didn’t burn them or drown them in water or spread sage over them in a symbolic ritual. I just put them out with the trash. And they were gone the next morning. And the weight of memory left.
What do we remember? Forget? Keep and frame or discard? Some things are really hard to let go of. Because they hold the energy of that time or that person. As Robert Graves writes in “Spoils”,
When all is over and you march for home:
that lock of hair, these letters and the portrait
May not be publicly displayed; nor sold;
Nor burned; nor returned (The heart being too obstinate)-
Yet never dare entrust them to a safe
For fear they maty burn a hold through two-foot steel.
We shouldn’t underestimate the power of reminiscence. And mementos. Yet it’s also important to know when it’s time to let go. Sometimes completely (not always of our choosing!) and sometimes with greater distance, less intimacy and intensity. And it’s important to remember that life is filled with so many chapters. And new books to read. New adventures to be had. New mementos to collect. New people to embrace. And new journals to fill…