Today I burned the contents of four file drawers. I already have bags and bags of recycle and trash so I thought why not have the fun of burning some paper? I was sorting and packing stuff in the basement in preparation for our move and I came across these files that I didn’t even remember belonged to me. They’d been there since our last move in 2008.
I guess I didn’t need anything in those files if I so totally forgot about them. Actually I did. Somebody asked me in the last year for something I’d written 20 years ago and I couldn’t find it in the minimal files I keep in my study. There it was, in a file drawer stuffed with paper from my past lives, mostly professional, some personal, some church stuff. So much for saving things if you can’t find them when you need them.
I know that none of the file contents belongs in any organization’s archives; I was careful to transfer important stuff when I left jobs or volunteer positions. This was my own notes, collected articles, conference programs, foundation files, “issue” files, Christmas cards and letters from other people, and a lot of personal things I’d written in the years before I used a computer regularly.
Pretty interesting stuff if you were of a mind to go through it all and remember exactly what you did when and what you thought about certain topics and where you got articles or letters to the editor published. Who you were back when. What you accomplished. Your career.
I was not of that mind. I started going through it sheet by sheet and then faster and faster, tossing whole folders of stuff on a growing heap. I pulled out and preserved some journals that had ended up there rather than where I usually keep them. Someday I may look back at my journals but probably not. I will have to throw those out or burn them upon my next move to a nursing home or whatever.
I hate paper. I love computers where everything can be stored in the cloud forever. Not that I want to keep everything for later retrieval but at least I don’t have to decide more than once (save or delete?) and it doesn’t weigh anything when you move.
As I watched the flames turn the pages of my life I realized that the past has never meant that much to me. I live in the present, going on future. Maybe that will change someday and everything I have forgotten will come crowding back into my mind. My dad looked out the windows of the urban nursing home at the end of his life and saw corn being harvested, cows coming in from the pasture for milking. You don’t need paper to stir the reveries of dementia.