I began journaling in 1987 after the birth of my son. I filled looseleaf notebook after looseleaf notebook over the past 22 years. When one got too full to hold anymore paper, I wrote the dates it covered on the spine, stored it in a box and bought a new notebook. At last count, I have 11 filled journals. Doing the math? Each one contains about two years worth of poems, prayers and promises. And John Denver lyrics, apparently.
Anyhoo, the edition that contained the first two years of Dave's battle with cancer went missing soon after I filled it and filed it away. It was not the happiest of tomes. I vaguely remember wondering if Dave had taken it to read and mislaid it during that time. Occasionally, I'd look behind and underneath furniture thinking maybe I'd put it somewhere for safekeeping. And then promptly forgot where that safe place was.
I remember telling Young Son, who was about 15 at the time, that I was sad it was missing because it was such a pivotal era of our lives. In simple teenaged wisdom he said, "Maybe it is better that it is gone. Now you don't have to relive all those memories." That sort of settled it for me, and I just kind of grudgingly accepted there was a two-year gap in my history.
Fast forward to yesterday. The A/C unit in that strange closet in the hallway froze up (or some other technical term) and leaked water. I put a towel down under the unit to catch the drips and decided to change the filter while I was in there. D had left a spread sheet encased in plastic that chronicled all the filters he had changed, month by month, for the past 7 years. There were also all the receipts of cleanings and repairs of this unit. I had never changed a filter before, but was fairly confident I was doing it correctly. I stood back to admire my work and noticed a package wedged to the side of the closet. It was wrapped in heavy plastic and secured with silver duct tape.
I took it into the living room to open it, and found my missing journal. Freed from its closet home of 7 years. Obviously, D had wrapped it and put it in there. And I was left to speculate on his reasons. My best guess is that he did not want those first hard years of grappling with a cancer diagnosis and all the extreme treatments that followed to be part of our history. I get that.
One thing that I've learned as I have to sort through the remains of his life, is that I am able to pick and choose what I keep, what I give away and what I dispose of. It is not an easy process.
When I was in high school there was a huge uproar over the teaching of a curriculum called "Values Clarification" that included role playing. Students decided who would be rescued or cast off of a ship with only enough room for a limited number of passengers. Today, we would call that the current season of "Survivor". Sorting through the "stuff" that was a life feels very similar to me. I've been left to make the choice of "what matters most." We all want our lives to matter. We want our things to have value to others. We want to leave a legacy.
I no longer have a hole in my collection of 11 journals. I also have a new understanding of D wanting to erase those years in any way he could. And, I suppose, to take away the pain that was associated with them. But, honestly? As I reread the pages until late into last night I don't remember it as so awful. I know that those early procedures bought us almost 7 more years together. For that I'm very grateful.
And I'm even more grateful for a husband who thought he could spare me painful memories by simply wrapping them up and tucking them away. And in a way, it worked. Because it reminds me to extract the precious from the worthless. To choose what is important. And to hide it away in my heart. Amen.