I’ve been a life long journal, or diary as they were called growing up, keeper from the day I was given a Mickey Mouse diary as a gift from a friend of the family when I was maybe about 10 or 11-years-old. It had a fancy lock clasp and keys to hold all the “secrets” or my most private of thoughts from prying eyes. At least whatever my kid brain thought was well worth keeping tucked away for just me.
The habit of journaling stuck, and it has tracked every stage of my life from adolescence to young adult to now. A book shelf is filled with completed journals of thoughts and memories that mattered most to me at the time. Recently, I decided to take one of those books off the shelf and began thumbing through the pages. What I found within those pages was a girl who was and wasn’t me.
The ritual of journaling is largely cathartic for me. Any thought that was rattling in my brain would be transferred from my mind to the blank pages of a book. Once recorded I felt like I could move on without carrying the weight of those thoughts with me. Or if there were things I wanted to remember—a kind word from a stranger, a meaningful gift a friend gave me, or the feeling of exploring a new city in a foreign country for the first time—they would all be on record forever should I want to revisit that time again and somehow “relive” it. Keeping a journal felt very much like a time capsule. It would preserve what was from the past for your future self to uncover later.
When I fill up all the pages of my journal I would store the finished book away and largely forget about it, ready to move onto the next blank book. I very rarely go back to re-read entries. Maybe it’s because I’m not ready to revisit what was recorded, or maybe what I had written was still too close to the period of my life I was currently in. But it took the passing of an old friend to prompt me to go back into the past.
The death of this friend, when I heard the news, was shocking and sudden. He died much too young and left behind a wife and three young kids. We were close once until time and diverging paths drifted us further and further apart. We stopped talking to each other and no longer met up for the many fun hangouts we used to do. Any updates to his life were relegated to the occasional Facebook post. Life went on and we continued living our own lives. Hearing of his passing made me think about the role he played in my life when we were both a significant part of it.
I still have pictures of him but those barely have the context I would need to know when it was taken and what we were doing at the time. The journals I had kept provided me the details I almost always wrote about.
Re-reading these old journals became a bit of a deep dive, combing through the pages and searching for all the entries I had written that referenced him in some way, big or small. During this travel back into the past, I rediscovered the younger version of myself. What I found was a revelation.
My pre-teen to high school self had atrocious writing and what concerned her was dramatic and often frivolous. I didn’t expect anything less from that girl, but it was both funny and cringey at the same time. Then I moved onto the college year entries where the writing improved significantly but was filled with lingering insecurities, uncertainty, and a lost young lady who hadn’t quite found her place in the world yet. I read every page, engrossed and unable to put the journals down, like I was reading a book written about someone else’s life. Except it was my own and I had lived through all of this.
Some memories were painful. Others were filled with joy and good times. Many of them were things I had forgotten until I read the accounts and I was transported back, remembering some of those details but never with acute clarity.
I found my recently departed friend within the pages of the journals I read. Maybe we weren’t meant to be in each other’s lives forever, but what he brought to my own life helped shape me into the adult I would become in the distant future. This brings me to what I learned from going back to the past.
A common thread I noticed from being a high school student to a college student was this idea that things won’t change. The person I was would never be the confident, graceful, and self-assured woman I wanted to be. There was this sense of being stuck in place and never figuring out who I was. Reading all of this now, no longer the same person I was before, I realized how my life experiences and the people who were in my life for a time were subtly preparing me for the adult I would become.
We often don’t notice these influences at the time they’re happening. We’re so caught up in our fears and worries, focusing on a future that hasn’t happened yet, that we don’t realize that every moment you experience and every person you meet are there to help you transform. Sometimes those experiences and people will break your heart. Other times they will be the best things that ever happened to you. Whatever they are to you, all of them are necessary for growth.
I was blown away by how much I have grown and changed without being aware of it. I sympathized with my younger self because this was a girl who couldn’t see how things will change and for the best most of the time. She had to go through a lot of painful truths along the way, but she would turn out all right. Her incredible strength and resilience would see her through.
After my trip through memory lane, I think I’ll make it an occasional habit to come back to these completed journals. As embarrassing and cringey some of your old writings might be, you will gain perspective and be reminded how far you have come and how far you will continue to go to accomplish many more great things.