There’s a method to the madness over the last three columns. It culminates in the treasure that is keeping a record of our daily lives. I highly recommend it whether your choice is to write in college-ruled notebooks or those puffy cover diaries that I recall so fondly (not) from the 1980s.
As Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison wrote, “We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.”
Morrison understood the privilege of language and the power within the pen. A record of one’s daily life is, indeed, a measure of our lives. However, that doesn’t mean we must write solely for publication. We can write as a future reference for family members to better understand the makings of their family tree, or as a personal record to better understand one’s self. I have discovered over the years growth and change, the fallacy of memory, and the bias that colors it. I’ve often reread entries with the question of whether my emotion was correct at the moment or is it today.
I felt a particular kinship with a relative when reading through the family Bible, the care taken to note births, marriages, and deaths within those delicate folds. I understood my illegible handwriting came to me honestly. I was witness to it as my husband and I tried to decipher the exact spelling of names. The swoops and swirls by a maternal relative (long since gone) more times than not so unreadable, we had to make guesses.
While no one needs to write a novel, I wish there had been more than dates and names. What a treasure to come across a note made within the narrow margins on how it felt the day a child was born or when a child unexpectedly passed away. To discover a folded piece of yellowed paper, tucked within the pages, the faded words sharing the celebration of a marriage or the despair at a marriage torn apart.
A record of our lives draws back curtains to challenging moments. What we once thought happened one way a journal entry can reveal as another. We can see where growth has stagnated and what we can work towards improving or, at least, better empathize with the choices made, to understand the human condition.
Let me share a short story, a moment in a courtroom where the judge noted the defendant’s journal. The question — what had the defendant written that morning?
The defendant responded that he wrote how nervous he was, coupled with a sense of renewal. He made a note of the changes made over time and the fact he no longer hated himself. There were mentions of pride and celebration in nine months of sobriety.
The judge was in awe, as was probation. A statement was made on the magic in the power of the pencil — the ability to pay attention to things that would otherwise escape them. A journal provides lessons, time for reflection, to slow the thinking process.
It was a gift to keep life’s lessons close at hand, said the judge.
It does serve one well to keep them close at hand. I know this all too well. However, it was both the gift of records and the lessons within diaries and notebooks that eluded me one beautiful fall day so many years ago. I built a bonfire and began to burn years that are now only left to memory. I had to start over.
For me, if my writings are strictly left in my daughters’ hands, I hope they feel compassion towards the frailty that is life. To understand the mistakes made but also the ability to start anew. I hope the words capture the jubilation felt upon their births. I hope they feel empathy when they learn the reason for the slow decline of record-keeping within their baby books. The journals a witness to the drop-off, but that is a story for another day.
I hope they learn something about themselves.
For now, let me end by writing how journals are time machines that can transport us back to the happiest and the most tragic of moments. They are lessons beyond calculation and their value immeasurable.
It isn’t easy keeping a daily record given all the distractions in our world today. However, if you manage nothing more than to write today was a good day. Or, perhaps, to write it was a bad day but with hope for tomorrow. What greater gift to bestow upon the generations to follow but hope?
Bethany J. Royer-DeLong is a reporter for the Daily Advocate and Early Bird and a life-long resident of Darke County. She holds a bachelor’s degree in work psychology and a master’s degree in organizational leadership because she’s a sucker for all things jobs. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.