Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Life is a process of editing

The author's depiction of her family, drawn at age 6 or 7.

My parents are downsizing. Which means I'm upsizing -- that is, re-inheriting all the mementos I thought fit to store over 24 years of living in their house. And for a sentimental person who also believes that a future biographer will want to review every artifact of her formative years, the process is excruciating.

How excruciating? On my most recent visit home, I spent four hours getting six memory boxes down to three, not including the rolling cabinet of extra photo prints or the box with my American Girl doll paraphernalia. I was covered with dust, peeling cardboard, and disintegrated rubber bands. I discovered items I'd never seen (my baptism candle), items I'd forgotten (all my high school handbooks), and items I knew were there but were unsure I wanted to see again (love -- and a couple hate -- letters from old flames).

Some people claim to feel lighter after purging. I experience pits in my stomach. What if I need that later?! I think. Or worse: What if I forget everything that once mattered?

But so what if I do? What mattered then doesn't always matter now. (See: handbooks. Also: old love letters.) What struck me most in looking at 2.5 decades' of memories was how many of the people writing me when I was 1, 10, 18, 20 are still in my life, still sending me notes, still loving me.

Also incredible: how what I wrote -- and what was written about me -- reflects my enduring fundamentals. Take the letters written by my third-grade classmates from Springfield Elementary, where I attended for six months before moving again. They said that I was nice to them on the playground, that I never got in trouble, that I told funny stories. (One said she liked how I "made the hamster talk," a clear indication that if nothing else, our senses of humor are established early.) I am who I am, for better or worse, and keeping boxes packed with greeting cards, textbooks, and old worksheets in my basement is not going to change that one way or another.

This is a process, of course. I know intellectually that I have plenty of items yet to cull, and one day I will summon the emotional courage to detach from and discard even more. What will make it easier is the dawning wisdom that only my ego, not my true self, wants these items. Where my ego requires validation of a good life well lived, my true self is focusing on living that good life well right now so that when I pass from this earth, context-less papers will not be my legacy, but rather, the love I experienced and expressed.

A full life, I've realized, requires editing. Not rewriting or recasting my story, but paring it down to its most powerful essentials. The more I edit and excise the past, the freer I am to write the present and enjoy the narrative as it unfolds.

I'm always going to keep my journals, though.


Prayer #318: Rightsized

If you shrunk my life to a room, what would I keep?

If you shrunk my life to a closet, what would I keep?

If you shrunk my life to a trunk, what would I keep?

If you shrunk my life to a shoebox, what would I keep?

I would keep gratitude for the container. Appreciation for what's discarded. Rejoicing for the items retained. And love -- love enough to fill a house, a state, a world -- love for the universe in which You've placed me, one object in a huge container, adored not for my size or my meaning, but for the sheer fact of my creation.

Amen.