Monday, January 9, 2017

How Do You File Memories?

These four walls, painted quiet green to invite calm, hold so many memories in drawers and on shelves, telling the story of a life through its contents. A much needed cleaning, purging and organization finally took place last week, drawing out forgotten moments and lessons.

 How do you file memories?

Home office and sometime guest room, exercise room, storage room, and sacred space. Keeper of my son’s memorabilia and pictures and adorable handwritten creative writing. Holder of a cartoon reminiscent of our oldest songwriter son. Host to so many of my books. Storer of financial documents, former teaching materials, research for writing projects, graduate school notes. Nearly 30 years of life including mortgage papers leaving a trail of all our homes, telling a wistful story of a young couple buying a handyman special house and then another, moving and moving and moving again until suddenly we found ourselves moving in the other direction, down-sizing in an emptynest.

Folders hold poetry written by others and some written by my awkward non-poet hand, like this one called “You Two” written for a former roommate after the death of her young husband, a dear man who influenced my husband’s decision to be an electrical engineer:

Who would’ve known that when you were young
and life was a rolling laugh
that it would end too soon?
Who would’ve known when I watched you two
swim in days of promise decades ago
that the promise would be short-lived?
But you would’ve said “yes” anyway,
wouldn’t you?
You would’ve said “yes” to limited years and brief days
so as not to miss the chance at love,
so as not to miss the chance to call
with your soft voices to
children listening for you two
from heaven and across the sea
“Come to me,” you summoned,
as they ran into your world and hearts
and home.
Who would’ve known?
Another folder holds poetry written for us by old church friends at a going away party before moving to Chicago from Virginia, like this adaption from Judith Viorst poem, “When Hannah Moved Away,” aptly changed to “Since the Mackillops Moved Away”:

The tires on my bike are flat.
The sky is grouchy grey.
At least it sure feels like that
Since the MacKillops moved away.

Chocolate ice cream tastes like prunes.
December’s come to stay.
They’ve taken back the Mays and Junes
Since the MacKillops moved away.

Flowers smell like halibut.
Velvet feels like hay.
Every handsome dog’s a mutt
Since the MacKillops moved away.

Nothing’s fun to laugh about.
Nothing’s fun to play.
They call, but I won’t come out
Since the MacKillops moved away.
How do you file goodbyes?
The folders also include the hard stuff. Paperwork from my grandfather’s estate when I served as the executrix 20 years ago tells a heart-wrenching story with its inclusion of a legal document signed by my troubled father saying he understood he was being cut of the will. My father’s signature offers memories of him in better days with its lovely and elegant curves. I hold the paperwork in my hand, wondering whether I keep the painful reminder, recycle it, or burn it in the fireplace. Reverently I return the folder to the drawer.
How do you file heartache?

The files tell a story of success and failure. Degrees earned. Writing rejections received. Relationships lost. Children and friendships celebrated. Sons departing for other states.
I begin most days in this room, fighting the persuasive call of Facebook and email in order to begin my day with silent prayer—for me, for others. I write at the computer, review manuscripts for work, or exercise with weights or an exercise ball. I live life in between these four walls in this small room.
Tossing out unneeded documents and ordering the files and books suddenly makes living here more calming for me, not only because I can find things in their neat folders and places on the shelves but because I’ve found articles and pieces of my life I want to remember forever. I need every person represented here, whether in my address books, pictures, letters, notes, journals. I need the writing samples to show me how I started awkwardly on this journey of honing a craft so that I continue down that road of editing, revising, listening, recording and telling stories until I take my last breath.  
I cleaned out the space to make room for new projects and more of life, to fit in all the future holds. But the space feels so full today I can hardly imagine forcing one more picture into the albums, stuffing one more note into a folder, sandwiching one more book between the others on the shelf without overcrowding these very full and sacred walls.