Yesterday I listened to the most recent This American Life. Titled “Too Soon,” the episode covered the topic of how, when reviewing our past, we must decide whether we are ready—or may ever be ready—to evaluate who we once were. The topic rang very true for me, as I was at that time digging through my old hope chest full of clippings, photos, journals, and accomplishments.
This trunk is an inadvertent time capsule; I know the age and provenance of the material contained within because when Nate and I moved to DC a decade ago, my dad stored this trunk in his attic for the day in the future I’d have the space for it. At the time, I had no idea we would live in DC then Boston for five years each, with a short jaunt across the pond wedged in the middle of that journey. All the while we were unable to transport this heavy chest. Now that we’ve moved south again, I am finally reunited with this relic of the past, which affords me the rare glory and horror of reviewing the treasures all at once rather than after gradual edits and inclusions.
One pile was particularly cringeworthy. Glancing at the essay at the top of the stack, I sat down, or rather crumpled, at the sight of it. Perched on a pile of shoes in the corner of a crowded room that I was supposed to be unpacking, I began reading the essay with a mixture of trepidation and disgust. It was from a series of mass emails—remember those?—I’d sent to friends just prior to the discovery of blogging.
This particular essay was titled, “Life is a Journey…blah, blah, blah.” What we always hear these days about the Internet is that it makes what we say permanent. But what I find interesting is it also renders it ever more erasable as well. Long ago I deleted any blog post written in the vein of this shitty material, yet there are steaming piles of it in my hope chest, printed or scribbled in the pre-Internet days.
All I could think as my eyes scanned the paper was, I am an asshole. [Or at least, I was at one time. I might still be, but it’s much harder to judge current assholery than it is to scorn the past.] It’s not all bad; there are glimmers of sincerity, such as this golden nugget: “I am thankful beyond belief that Nathan and I have the same goals and are enthusiastic about living and visiting the same places.” Aww. I am so glad to be able to report the same gratitude a decade later.
Buried in this trunk are snippets of adoration and humiliation courtesy of friends and boyfriends I can barely remember the names of. These events I can easily laugh at now because I’m so distant from the girl I was that I gaze back at her with only love and empathy. So maybe there is something to the notion that it is too soon to judge or make sense of the recent past. If I bury these artifacts again, it is with the kind of cautious optimism that comes with saving any piece of ourselves for review later—it’s the hope that some day, we will be nicer to ourselves than we are now.