As I continued today to sort paperwork, I fought a particular sadness that always fills me when I dredge through the past.
Whether it’s reading old journals, shredding financial records, or just trawling through a pile of memorabilia that I’ve collected, I end up feeling a bit nauseated and sometimes depressed.
It isn’t that the memories are bad, although some of them are. I felt all over again the anger from an ordeal I went through shipping all our belongings from Dubai to Georgia. Half the shipment got stuck in customs for weeks because of an error in the manifest on someone else’s goods that happened to be in the same container as ours. I had an entire file folder for the paperwork on that.
It seems so unimportant now.
There are many good memories in these files. Names and faces and voices that float up to me from this mishmash of articles, receipts, documents, and notes. People who helped me, people who made me laugh, people who supported the causes I championed.
Feelings continue to surface, too – how frustrated I was, how hard I worked, how earnestly I hoped to help people in Afghanistan, Egypt, Cambodia, Iraq, China, Laos, Armenia …
But the past has to stay in the past.
It has built this day, this person I am, and it cannot be dismembered and sorted without disturbing the fabric of the present.
A business card or a handwritten note from a place and time long forgotten is a visceral connection to the past. Touching them, it’s as though I have reached through the veil and disrupted the space-time continuum.
We can only live in the present. The more I dispose of these paper scraps, the more I feel the strength that comes from letting go.
Over two days, it took me eight hours to go through my files. I emptied 68 folders and manila envelopes, and shredded all the documents with financial or personal information. I filled five garbage bags with paper and shredded bits.
Here’s what it looked like in the recycling bin:
That’s not me. That’s just a lot of paper.
Today’s penny is a 1990, the date of the earliest financial records that I got rid of.