Stashed in boxes, on bookshelves, in closets, and on my desk are hundreds of notebooks dating back decades. Each has a different purpose. Some contain ideas I want to pursue further, that might become an essay, a poem, or a book someday. Some contain notes I took at conferences. Some refer to books I’ve read, summaries or brilliant passages I’ve copied out because I didn’t want to forget them. Some are journals in which I wrote down experiences on trips or my day-to-day feelings. In some notebooks I’ve recorded my insights when studying scripture.
As Greg and I have gotten older, we’ve encountered more medical challenges, and we found we couldn’t always remember what tests or bloodwork we’ve had done and what the results were. We couldn’t remember when we had certain procedures. So in May of 2019, I started taking another notebook to all our doctor appointments to write down our concerns and all pertinent information.
So much of what I write every day is for one reason—I’m trying to remember stuff.
Strangely enough, much of what I write gets forgotten anyway. I recently grabbed a journal from 1996-1998 out of a box, and I don’t remember any of the stuff I wrote. In August ’96 I wrote down some details about a trip our daughter Carly had taken the month before. She visited Bennington College for “July Program” the summer before her senior year in high school. This is about her return flight: “Departure from Albany delayed approx. 1½ hours due to new security procedures resulting from crash of TWA 800 (?). Had to stop over in Atlanta—same day as bombing at Centennial Olympic Park. Reassigned to another flight to Phx. Had to spend extra couple hours in Atlanta airport. I was sure bomber was in airport, trying to get on Carly’s flight. Carly got to fly 1st class.” I don’t remember any of that happening, except for the bombing.
Most of the rest of that journal is notes about books I was reading at that time. For example, this excerpt from the book Waiting, by Ben Patterson: “Robert Schuller asks, ‘What great thing would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?’ The question is designed to break us out of our mental ruts and to think of the possibilities of our lives.” For me, reading this excerpt now is like seeing it for the first time.
So all those things I’ve recorded in notebooks and journals are essentially wasted if I do not go back and reread them. I don’t know if that’s true for everyone; certainly some people remember what they’ve experienced over their lifetimes. But I don’t remember what I read a year ago, much less 23 years ago.
When my Mom passed away in 2004, my brother and I went through her “art collection,” our affectionate nickname for the stack of papers piled up in the corner of the kitchen counter. We found all sorts of old stuff in there, including letters I’d written to her from college in the early 1970s. I wish I could say the letters brought back memories. Mostly, I couldn’t even remember the people I’d mentioned in them, students in my classes and my dorm, even professors I’d had.
I still believe in taking notes at conferences and in journaling, in writing down ideas and interesting things I’ve read; but now I’m going to make a point of rereading my notes and journals from time to time. I’ll let you know how that goes—if I remember.