Every now and then piles of nostalgia that surround my workspace or crowd my attic need to be culled through and either consolidated or cast off. As I get older, it seems like the frequency with which I need to sort the breadcrumbs of my past increases. It sounds quite monotonous, but I find the personal archeological quest to my recent past to be extremely informative.
Some of the things I find on those excavations are kept – relics that bring a particular joy in remembering the events that surrounded their procurement. Other items are unceremoniously tossed with little tinge of regret. What makes the difference?
Of the things that find a new home in the scaled-down Crypt of Sampson Lore there are many pictures. Pictures (being worth a thousand words and all...) have the capacity to capture many memories that cannot be adequately penned. There is emotion and nostalgia trapped on paper in vivid color. Pictures of family, friends and special occasions just tell too much of a story to my soul to get rid of them. The four-by-six inch footprint in a box represents a twenty or thirty year imprint on my life. I remember coming across one picture in particular in which I am standing next to my first car outside of my paternal grandparents' house. So many things flood in from that one captured frame of my life: how much I loathed and loved that first car; the incredible love of my grandparents; the now painfully too-obvious delusions I had about myself as a teenager... Pictures possess a power little else in the box will. After a bit of sorting (so long, old kind-of-girlfriend who never really knew you were my kind-of-girlfriend...), pictures: check.
Also invited to my remember-this party are cards, letters and awards. There are many, many notes in my box written by my now-wife while we were dating. I'm not sure why I hold onto them – when I see them in the box I rarely read them. There are a few that are very significant, but many are simply the trail of relationship-building between two people deciding to learn to love each other. THAT is why I keep them. Just seeing my name written on the envelope of so many letters in my wife's distinctive handwriting ushers in a host of thanks for who she is, where we have been, and where we are now in our relationship. Sometimes I have to smirk at the former version of myself and say, “man, I could SO help you out...” So, into the box goes a hundred or more envelopes filled with the trail maps and signposts of the most significant relationship of my life. I don't need them to remember her. I don't long for the relationship the way it was when they were written. I choose to keep them not because of what they say but because of who wrote them. Past letters remind me of God's present gift. Letters: check.
Other various items fill out the capsule: many, many, many (read: three) awards and accolades for my prodigious athletic prowess as a youth (of particular pride is a Little League Baseball trophy recognizing me as “participant.” I'm pretty sure that was code for “MVP.” At least that's what my dad told me...); a poster-sized photo of one Crosswalk editor on stage with me our freshman year of college mimicking New Kids on the Block (I have no fond memories of that day – I simply need blackmail information); a styrofoam cylinder of old marbles for no particular reason; a high school letter jacket I hardly wore because I received it at the end of my SENIOR year (note the aforementioned prodigious athletic talent) and a hand-made item from the man who taught my grade school Children's Church. It was from an Easter Sunday. Jim was a very gifted artist and he regularly made things to give to one child at the end of each Sunday. I ALWAYS wanted one, but it came with the prerequisite of being “good” during Children's Church... so my coveted prize usually eluded my grasp. But that particular day I must have either been tired or all the other kids stayed in church with their parents – because this bad boy took home the prize!! It is a plastic wall-hanging in bright colors with a blue background and a vivid yellow half-circle sun on which is painted, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. Isaiah 60:1” Evidence that I was once well-mannered in a group setting and someone noticed: check.
What didn't make the cut? The greatest difference I find between things that become great memories and things that become great compost is this – memories were the stuff of real life that actually happened, compost is the stuff of diversion and busyness. I thew away an impressive collection of To Do lists that never “did.” I kept a few scribbled ideas just for the sheer entertainment value of my unfettered mind. I have a knee-high pile of unfinished journals that were written by some guy who sounded like he was trying to impress some future version of me. The items that endure are real. They were real events. They were real impressions of a real God – not some recycled ideas of someone I read and thought was smart. They were real struggles and real joys. And I scripted precious few of them. In fact, one thing that struck me was the fact that, of all the things on To Do lists that didn't get done – none of them were missed. But I'm pretty sure some memory-worthy things were missed while I was writing down the things I was going to do.
I'm no advocate of shunning planning or of not ordering your time. I have had my fill of unproductive days. But rummaging through the shrapnel of the day-to-day to determine what will last has given me more perspective on the importance of not missing today for the sake of tomorrow. I think I would do well to start my day looking at a well-aged reminder to “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon you” than looking at my planner.
May we live today thankful for the things we will want to remember.
[In an exercise to remind herself to be thankful for today's events that will become valued memories, my amazingly gifted wife writes a daily (she's much more dependable than I) blog you might like: 365picsofgratitude.blogspot.com.]
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