Back in 2007, I read an article in the Houston Chronicle by columnist Leon Hale that made me stop and think. Here’s what he said:
When you get as old as I am, people come around and ask questions like, “If you could crank the calendars back and become 21 again, would you do anything different?”
You bet I would.
To begin with, let’s deal with the matter of backing up and becoming 21 again. Obviously this is not going to happen, but it’s a game old people like to play. Most of them say, “No, thanks. I wouldn’t go back to 21 even if I got the chance.”
You won’t catch me saying that. I’d accept that gift in a split minute. Be 21 again? Bring it on. I’ve already lived into my mid-80s, and those years have gone by like a drag race. I’d dearly love to have half a dozen more decades.
So what would I do different?
First, on my 21st birthday I would begin keeping a journal. Every night I’d record where I went and what I did and with whom, even if the day has been routine and dreary. I would do that until I got old again.
Reason this is important to me, I figure I’ve forgotten at least half the detail of the years I’ve lived. I’ve forgotten hundreds of names, places, events, remarks made, kindnesses done, wounds dealt.
I grieve the loss of these details. They would be of huge value to me now. They represent a large part of my life, and they’re gone. It’s like half of me is already dead.
So in this little fantasy I’m having today, I’d keep the journal …”
Then he goes on to talk about learning to play the piano and learning another language, which is another “I wish I would’ve…” for me. All those years that I was single and free could’ve been spent learning Spanish.
Ok, so even though I’m quite a few years past 21, there’s still a lot of candy left in this piñata, so I will keep a journal from now on. And maybe I’ll still learn another language.
The date of that column was July 29, 2007 and I’ve kept a daily journal ever since (the 2 paragraphs above were lifted from that day’s entry).
Every night I fire up my journal program and type in the details of my day, no matter how mundane. Sometimes I’ll even make notes during the day in a draft email so I don’t forget, then copy it over to my journal at night. I find it very therapeutic to unburden my soul and pour out everything. I probably would have done this years ago if there had been a way to password protect the entries. Now I can write anything I want, knowing my secrets are safe.
And every now and then I’ll go back and read some of those entries and you know what? Leon’s right — I’ve forgotten many of those details already, and it hasn’t even been that long! Here’s an entry that I just love…and had totally forgotten about:
Isaiah said something that I thought was so cute I had to write it down so I wouldn’t forget. We were talking about when we lived in California and I mentioned going to Disney studios to work. He said, “I didn’t know you had to go out for work.”
Isn’t that great? Here’s a child who has always known his mother to work at home. Of course they know I work, but I love it that they see me making money from home, with my own business. Already I try to stress having their own business — when Sierra says she wants to work at the pet store, I say “no, you want to own the pet store and work there when you feel like it.”
The journal can also be useful for figuring out what day we did this or that. Really, it’s like being able to recapture and relive great moments and memories that would otherwise be lost forever. Life is in the details, and when the details are lost, you’re left with lots of empty gaps. In my 20s I used to make cryptic notes on a calendar but without the details, it’s like peeking through the window into someone else’s life, wishing I could see more.
So for all of you younger folks, heed Leon’s words and start keeping that journal now. You’ll be glad you did.