A few weeks ago I dragged a box of old journals from my closet. I started my first diary in elementary school. It had a padlock on it so nosy siblings couldn’t peek. They could have just ripped the binding off the darn thing, of course, but they never thought to do that. I don’t know what happened to that early diary. I wish I had it now to see what my 9-year-old self thought was important enough to record. I suspect it was stuff like “Michael W. stuck his tongue out at me today when Mrs. N. was writing on the blackboard,” or “That kid Joe R. seems really nice. I bet he’ll marry my little sister 20 years from now.”
The earliest journals in my possession are from the mid-1980s when I was in college. But I didn’t pick up steam until after I graduated in 1986. From then on my journals record things like:
- The loneliness I felt after leaving all my friends behind and returning from the happy bubble of college life
- My growing dissatisfaction in a 9-to-5 job that just wasn’t me
- Countless dates with “bad boys” who weren’t interested in serious relationships. Duh!
- My fickle nature
- My dreams and wishes for the future
- The plans to realize those dreams and wishes
- The actual steps I took
- The successes and setbacks I experienced
Some of the entries are truly heartbreaking. They transport me back to pain I don’t even remember. I may as well be reading a stranger’s journal because I don’t recognize the empty person behind the words. But then, with the flip of a page, the tone changes and I’m going on and on about becoming a rock star. Yeah right! That band I was in with John, Richie, and Vito in high school obviously went right to my head.
A few journals later and I feel exhausted after reading about the hard work it took to start my business. And then, there’s the ridiculous: I’ve obsessed over my weight my entire adult life, but with the exception of a short period of time leading up to my pregnancy and for a short time after giving birth, my weight has not varied by more than 5-10 pounds. How do I know this? Because I recorded it. I could have refrained from worrying and had the same result. The best part of reading my old journals is the exhilaration of seeing dreams and wishes from one year become reality in subsequent years. Progress.
I also love revisiting the quotes I captured from books I was reading at the time or other sources.
From one of my favorite books Always, Rachel: The Letters of Rachel Carson and Dorothy Freeman:
“All I am certain of is this: that it is quite necessary for me to know that there is someone who is deeply devoted to me as a person, and who also has the capacity and the depth of understanding to share, vicariously, the sometimes crushing burden of creative effort.” Rachel Carson
From Dinah Mulock, “Friendship”:
“Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are—chaff and grain together—certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.”
From Alex Noble:
“Oh, the miraculous energy that flows between two people who care enough…to take the risks of…responding with the whole heart.”
My New Year’s Resolutions for 1996 were taken directly from Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe:
Health enough to make work a pleasure,
Wealth enough to support your needs,
Strength enough to battle with difficulties and overcome them,
Grace enough to toil until good is accomplished,
Charity enough to see good in your neighbor,
Love enough to move you to be useful and helpful to others,
Faith enough to make real the things of God,
Hope enough to remove all anxious fears concerning the future.
In 1997, I began my journal with “My Symphony of Life” by William Henry Channing:
To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion.
To be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy not rich; to study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly; to listen to stars and birds, to babes and sages, with open heart; to bear all cheerfully, do all bravely, await occasions, hurry never. In a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common. This will be my Symphony.
That same year, I was plagued by chronic back pain. The following passage by John Adams caught my eye. It was written three days before his death and reassured me that even as our physical bodies break down, our spirits can continue to thrive:
“The house in which John Adams lives is falling down. The roof leaks badly. The foundation is crumbling. The shingles are dropping like raindrops, and the windows let the frigid air through like screens. In spite of all this, however, John Adams is doing just fine, thank you.”
Reading old journals reminds me of who I was and who I wanted to become. Moment by moment, we make decisions that lead to changes that are sometimes barely perceptible in our lives. Yet years later, in hindsight, we realize how far we’ve come or how far we’ve veered off our intended course. Sometimes that’s a good thing. But when an alternate path does not result in fulfillment, it’s time to make adjustments and become aware of how we lost our way.
When I put the last journal back into the box and pushed it all back into the closet, I was feeling refreshed and ready to start daydreaming about what I want to do in the second half of my life.
Do any of you keep journals? What do you find most valuable about the practice? Do tell.