We visited a new friend from our new church who lives in a very old home–three generations old, to be exact–that is filled with three generations of stuff.
Stuff like the fancy old furniture and beautiful old books. But also stuff like a lifetime collection of letters and meticulously kept journals, records of her grandfather’s life that were obviously deeply valued by their original owner but have become both a gift and a burden for his granddaughter. My friend displays enthusiasm about her finds and about their potential value, but I think I sense a bit of pause as she considers the depth and complexity of the task of unearthing that value.
This sets me to wondering what kind of paper trail, if any, I will leave behind. My grandfather has kept detailed journals all his life–from what I can tell, they are mostly about baseball statistics and family birthdays–but there must be some personal insights in their pages. My mother has kept scores of photo albums filled with family photos all labeled with names and dates so that our memories will live on. And I, well, I write a blog entry once a month and I post my status updates on facebook every few weeks and I take a few pictures a month and try to get them loaded from my camera to my computer. But I wonder if I will leave anything worthwhile behind that doesn’t need to be plugged in or turned on or logged into.
I used to journal with great zeal, but I think I might have to burn those before they make it to my grandchildren, as they are mostly about song lyrics, inexplicable crushes on strange boys, and “how much I can’t stand my mother/sister/math teacher/hair/ex-best friend” sorts of self-indulgent entries. Paul and I wrote a lot of mushy stuff back and forth during our courtship, but unfortunately (or fortunately) it is all on email. We made a valiant attempt to print it all out one time in college, but after about half a ream of paper and at least an hour in the computer lab, we started to get embarrassed about the whole project and decided to just quit. So those are lost on old email accounts to which I no longer have the password. And, frankly, I don’t even really print out my pictures anymore–at least not like I should–and so even those will be hard to access.
So this sets me to wondering what sort of a paper trail I SHOULD leave behind. Does it matter? Will my great-granddaughter consider it a treasure when she stumbles upon the Exhaustive Memoirs of Laura (Rogers) Lundgren Including Pictures With Dates? Or will she sigh to herself as she heaves open the giant trunk and roll her eyes at the tediousness of my entries?
Perhaps, when I broadcast the moments of my life instantly to everyone (and then allow my words to evaporate) it is no different than my friend’s grandfather describing his life privately but storing his words carefully to last indefinitely. We both write hoping that our words will be read by someone who cares enough to value them, but we mostly write because that moment calls for declaration. And it feels good just to say it.