Sunday, November 18, 2007

Just the memories

Brian Blum writes one of my favorite Israeli blogs, This Normal Life. Raised in California, he now lives with his wife, Jody, and their three children in Jerusalem. While he writes mainly about his family and their life in Israel, his blog is a good read even if you have no interest at all in the Middle East.

Brian's latest post is a great case in point. After 40 years, his parents are about to move out of his childhood home and into a retirement community. They made it clear to him that anything left on moving day would be tossed out. So, on a visit to the United States, he has to go through 30 boxes of papers and assorted memorabilia.

Among the treasures he'd stored there: TV Guide Fall Preview issues from the 1970s, high school and college essays, copies of Mad magazine, hundreds of record albums, thousands of newspaper clippings and every letter he'd ever received from age 8 on up.

I went through a similar process of deciding what to throw away and what to keep when I left Syracuse, N.Y., in 1997 to spend a year in Israel. So Brian's dilemma really resonates with me. I had to be pretty brutal as I went through boxes and boxes of stuff that I'd been carting around since college. There simply was no room for sentimentality.

Like Brian says in his blog, I was a bit of a pack rat, too. I'd kept 20-year-old statements and cancelled checks from banks that probably no longer exist. I had fliers for parties that took place when I was in college, even though the parties were held long ago, with or without my attendance.

I can't say I saved every letter I'd ever received, but I did have every rejection letter I'd ever been sent after applying for a job. And I had my fair share of old term papers, magazines, and newspaper clippings. Of course, I kept my record albums. But I did finally get rid of a couple stray eight-track tapes.

After reducing the contents of 30 boxes to four, Brian writes that his memories are just that, memories, "with scant few physical mementos to document them." While his parents will have an easier time moving, he feels something has been lost. "That my children – if they ever wanted to – will not be able to learn quite as much about their father as they once could have. This article is all I have left, a public testimony to some 40 years of hording. Is it so wrong to grieve?"

I think everyone who's been through the process feels the same way Brian does. The stuff we spent decades accumulating was, at one time, an important part of our lives. It doesn't matter if we haven't looked at it in years. It's the past that can never be brought back, only wistfully remembered.

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