There’s a room upstairs in my house where I store things: my old skis, high school yearbooks, family photos. Everyone has a place like this. I foraged around in this room and noticed my personal journals on a shelf, journals I’d written in over a life time. I rarely reread my old journals. Writing in them was enough. But I leafed through a few out of curiosity and was surprised by what I found. I knew things in 1993 and 2001 and 2010!
It occurred to me that I’d never given my younger self much credit for wisdom.
I’ve always thought wisdom and the knowledge that undergirds it takes years to acquire. It’s the wheelhouse of the very old—but it seems I was wrong.
For example, the last day of February 1993 I was anxious for spring and the weather wasn’t cooperating. I wrote: “The temperature outside is 20 degrees—and falling! Forget global warming!”
Apparently, decades ago I knew about climate change.
I knew about it long before Al Gore’s book An Inconvenient Truth, or young Greta Thunberg’s climate protests. In 1993 I was a high school reading teacher and a busy mother of four. I remember grading papers until late in the afternoon, and then picking up my kids from after-school sports. On the way home we ate take-out Little Caesar pizza in the car. When did I find time to read about trapped greenhouse gases? And, where did I read about it?
I wrote an entry in my journal in 2001, the day before the September 11th terrorist attacks in New York. Interestingly, my topic was life and what it meant to live. I’d just had my first colonoscopy, and I wrote: “I’ve reacted to this colonoscopy with disabling apprehension…I barely got through it…what with fear and anxiety over cancer, tumors, polyps, biopsies. How many times will I have to live through these horrid experiences? And then, THEN, Dr. Williams gave my colon a clean bill of health and told me she’d see me again in ten years. My spirits went up like a kite.
I wanted to shout to the sky, ‘I’ll live!’—as if ‘living’ is solely dependent on physical health…”
In 2010 I wrote something in my journal that reminded me of a book I’m currently reading about Einstein and physics. I barely made it through high school physics so I was intrigued to find out if The Dancing of the Wu Li Masters could explain the universe to me. The author, Gary Zukav, wrote, “…all of the things in our universe (including us) that appear to exist independently are actually parts of one all encompassing organic pattern and …no parts of that pattern are ever really separate from it or from each other.”
The Wu Li Master’s book soothed my grieving spirit this fall when my brother suddenly died, and I felt permanently “separate” from him.
Weirdly, in the spring of 2010 I speculated about how the laws of the universe and the elasticity of space and time might have something to say about death and dying on earth. I wrote:
“…there (are) all kinds of stories: the story of childhood with its myth and magic; the story of adulthood with its passion and suffering; the story of old age with its death and loss. But the mitigating factor in old age, in all of life, is the story of the universe, of time and space. This is comforting to me because in the face of our cruel natural world, there’s a much bigger reality: time and space…”
When I finished reading my journals I restacked them back on their shelf, glad I took the time to revisit my younger self. My journal writings turned out to be hopeful letters to the future me, that white-haired lady living in the year 2021.