“The simplest questions are the most profound. Where were you born? Where is your home? Where are you going? What are you doing? Think about these once in a while, and watch your answers change….”
A couple days ago, I was digging through some old boxes when I came across my middle school burn book. Awkward.
Most of the pages are covered in magazine pictures, surrounded by comments written in bright markers. While at first glance the overfilled composition notebook resembles a “burn book” a la Mean Girls, that’s not actually what it is. The notebook is a friendship journal. Back in 2007, two of my 7th grade friends and I shared a journal. Each day someone different would take it home and write an entry. The entries were typically pictures, quizzes, and stories we cut out from magazines. We used code names (which were pointless because at the end we put pictures of ourselves and labeled who was who) and wrote small comments about our lives. It’s a fine cultural artifact, really. I wouldn’t be surprised if one day the journal ends up in a museum or special collections library, where you will need to use gloves to flip through the pages.
I laughed as I looked through the notebook. I had totally forgotten that this journal existed. Most of the entries were from March 2007. Exactly ten years ago. On a whim, I decided to share the book with my niece who is currently in 7th grade, the same grade I was in when I wrote it. Whereas I found the book silly and embarrassing, my niece found it a lot more interesting and relatable than I did. She took some of the quizzes and laughed along with our comments. Her older sister did the same. It was a fun bonding experience.
I kept all sorts of diaries growing up. Some were your standard over dramatic diaries (“No one understands me!!!”), and others were in the form of letters, a few even sealed in envelopes labeled when they should be opened. I guess I can say Anne Frank’s diary left a strong impression on me when I was young. I always felt that someday someone would come across my diaries, and for whatever reason, they would find them insightful and valuable. I imagined that in a distant future, an archeologist would discover them, buried deep in a jungle, safely preserved in jars of clay (Okay, Indiana Jones ALSO left a big impression me). The point is, I always wrote as if one day someone would read them.
And I was right. Someone did discover them and found them valuable. Someone did take the time to reminisce and piece together the stories in my scattered diaries (because I started way more diaries than I finished…) That person was me.
The best part of keeping a diary or journaling, is reading what you wrote years down the road, when your memories have long faded. You might be shocked at what you’ve forgotten or pleasantly surprised to see how much you’ve grown. Or maybe dismayed at how bad your handwriting actually is.
I still journal on a regular basis, especially when I travel. When I was in Germany, people on my trip noticed that I always had a thin, green Moleskin-knockoff on me. The guys kept teasing that they would read my journal one day, which made me laugh thinking how sorely disappointed they would be. One of my German friends asked me why I journal at all. I told him because humans are forgetful. We forget the lessons we’ve learned and the many, many things we have to be thankful for. Paper has a better memory than us (with wildfires, water damage, and scissors excluded).
A camp counselor once told me a metaphor that’s stuck with me since. Cathedrals often use stained glass windows to depict important Biblical stories. Each window shows an image that captures a significant moment, filled with meaning and wisdom. He said we all have stained glass windows. Times we thought we’d never get through it or that it was all over. Significant turning points in our lives. Moments that in retrospect, can be deeply encouraging. In times of doubt, he said, “Remember your stained glass windows. Remember what you’ve already overcome with God.”
Thus, I journal to catalog my stained glass windows. I write to make sense of my present, uncover the “windows,” and preserve those moments so that I can look back on them when I feel disillusioned. And I have. There’s been times when I needed to be reminded of how far I’d come.
For me, journaling obviously carries a deeply spiritual aspect, but it’s also just fun to look back and remember your old self. Exhibit A: My seventh-grade friendship journal. I’m not the only one ranting and raving about journaling. A quick google search will lead you to all sorts of articles and videos about bullet journals and 5 biggest mistakes to avoid while journaling (that one was a 30 min video so I have no idea what those are because the video was 28 min too long. I’m probably doing all 5 mistakes). Anyways, it gave me great joy to see this as Google’s first entry:
Journaling (or keeping letters or diaries) is an ancient tradition, one that dates back to at least 10th century Japan. Successful people throughout history have kept journals.
Why? Because I bet you a lot of successful people kept burn books in middle school and high school. Um, I mean friendship journals…