When I graduated from high school, my grandmother gave me a beautiful cedar hope chest.
At the time, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with this massive chest.
Over the years, it became a catch-all for all kinds of random things—keepsakes from my childhood, pictures, phone cords, letters, cards, socks missing a mate, books I never finished reading, disposable cameras, prom dresses, candle holders missing their candles…
Each time I moved, the chest moved with me, usually placed at the foot of my bed, where it often became covered with clothes or blankets. It also made for a nice place to sit as I put my shoes on.
It’s one of those places I’ve often meant to organize but have avoided.
Last week I read Throw Out Fifty Things, and two lines stood out to me and compelled me to finally tackle the hope chest:
You can’t move forward into the future when you’re constantly sucked back into your past.
If it—the thing, the belief or conviction, the memory, the job, even the person- weighs you down, clogs you up, or just plain makes you feel bad about yourself, throw it out, give it away, sell it, let it go, move on.”
As I opened the sweet smelling chest, I was sucked back into the past.
Childhood collections of unicorns and china dolls—
School papers and graduation memorabilia—
Clothes—pieces from important periods of my life like the denim skirt I wore on my first day of kindergarten, the robe my grandma made me when I was probably seven or eight, two of my poofy, sequined prom dresses.
A clarinet, a children’s sewing machine, my wedding veil…
A picture that hung on my wall as a little girl…
I organized the keepsakes into like piles and carefully repacked each in sturdy containers. I added notes that explained the significance of the items.
Then there was a pile I had avoided: some cards, photos, journals…
I skimmed the cards. I flipped through the photos. I read a couple of pages of the journals.
And just like that, I tossed it all into the trash pile with the TV antenna box that hasn’t been hooked to a TV in at least ten years.
I threw it all away for two reasons.
One, I realized that, taken out of context, the stories told in those journals or in those picture albums might one day unintentionally hurt my children or paint a picture of my past that isn’t necessarily true or helpful.
Two, I realized this hope chest belongs to me, and I don’t have room for regret, shame, or embarrassment. I know you're probably wondering what kind of sordid life did I live if I want to destroy all the details. Probably not one much different than many people in college and in their 20s. I struggled with low self-esteem, loneliness, poor decisions, bad relationships, disappointments, and starting over. Growing up is not always a pretty process.
I’m not saying I won’t share the not- so- idyllic details of my youth with Emily and Drew; what I am saying is I want to tell the real story, the story that can only be complete when filtered through the sieve of time and reflection, not told by the one-sided subjectiveness of a journal or the cold objectiveness of an old photograph..
Marty isn’t sure I’ve made the right decision. He wonders if the stories would have more power if they were told through the actual words I recorded as I faced situations that Emily and Drew might one day face.