Apparently books burn at four hundred and fifty one degrees fahrenheit. Nate told me that two nights ago when I was burning my journals.
Leave it to Nate to bring the scientific into situation.
I began journal-keeping in earnest when I was in college. I had 54 of them, dating back to 1985, when I was a sophomore at St. Lawrence.
There were various sizes: some large, unlined, sketch-book style; I went through a phase of Clairefontaine notebooks, with their colorful covers, but in the end I settled on one that I love to this day: a chemistry lab book, bound, blue cover, pale green pages, numbered. I had lots of those. And there was one small book, a pretty little thing that my friend, Libby, brought back from Italy. I never liked the tiny books, though, nor did I care much for the large and bulky ones. The Goldilocks of journal-keeping, I settled on the mid-size, having found them to be just right.
I was, of course, conflicted about burning all of those books filled with the stories of my life. When Nate came outside to see what I was doing on Tuesday night, he thought about it for a few minutes and then said, "It must be hard, to let go of things that are important to you."
"It is," I told him,"But I have many of these stories in my heart, and I don't want to lug this box of books through life with me anymore."
The truth is, though, that the books were filled with many stories I have forgotten. I spent some time reading through them before I let them go, and I was surprised.
I was surprised by the small details: the dinner parties, the late nights, the swimming, talking, drinking. The hikes up mountains all over this great country, the beaches, the diners, the pie, the dogs. The people, some who are still here, some who have moved on.
I was surprised by the recurring themes, by how many times, over three decades, I have agonized over the same things: love, vocation, loss. How many times I have grappled with the same questions: where to live and why; whom to love and why; how to spend my days. And why.
I was surprised by how much love I have received and I am worried, now, that I may have taken much of it for granted. I had tucked letters into the journals, several from men expressing their love, some their desire to be married. At the risk of sounding like an egomaniacal jerk, I am amazed by how many times in this life men have wanted to marry me. I am, truly amazed by that. When I was young I very much wanted to be married, but as I grew older I learned that I'm not very good at it; the friendships that I have with my two former husbands have lasted much longer than the marriages.
Mostly I am amazed by the breadth, the richness of the life I have had, and how, in spite of the ceaseless questioning and the recurring themes, it has all seemed to lead me kind of nicely to where I am today. Somehow it feels like this was all supposed to happen. Which is weird and surprising. And good.
It was hard to read the journals. It was hard to let them go. The very last one to burn was a Clairefontaine with a blue cover. Puffs of blue smoke kept wafting up into the air. I love the color blue; I thought that was funny.
Last night, when all of the journals were gone and all that was left was a pile of ashes, I put some in the soil in the gardens and I drew a little blessing out of myself, out of the ashes of the stories of the life I have lived:
I have not lived a perfect life (as you know).
But I have lived my life and I understand now, at 52, that that is how it's supposed to go.
May the stories of my travels help the sunflowers reach the sky.
May the stories of my love make the lettuce taste buttery.
May the stories of my dreams help the snapdragons bloom bright.
May the stories of my struggles strengthen the lilacs, to make it through another cold winter.
May the many stories of my friends bring us bountiful raspberries and juicy tomatoes.
May the stories of my family grow the herbs that will one day flavor our soup.
And may the stories of my heartaches deepen the already-deep red of the Cosmos.
When I was done mixing the ashes into the soil of the gardens, I tossed some into the nighttime sky and I watched as the stories of me sparkled in the air and floated gently down to the ground. "There was my trip to Greece," I thought. "There was the day I found out I was pregnant with Sam."
There was the delight and the confusion, the celebrations and the mistakes. "There is the story of the death of my friend, Emily." There was the day we got a new puppy.
All of those days, now floating in the air, here on the hill, resting on this morning's dewy grass, nestled in the soil with the earthworms. They were good, those days. Amen.