A couple weeks ago things got rather tense around here. We were missing some rather essential paperwork. I never had it to file, or so I believed. But it was so critical to have that I got Dick to drill out the lock on my two-drawer, fire engine red, legal-size file cabinet (which has followed me around the world through family moves and transitory digs in dorms).
The paperwork wasn't in that cabinet (I didn't think it was) but I did reconnect with a couple interesting things from my past.
All my journals from college were in those drawers as well as correspondence from my high school mentor. Your first reaction upon finding a folder containing letters from a comforting soul and influence in your life might not be to bury your nose in the contents. I got along well with scent dogs because that is my first response. Even after all these years I was comforted to find that I can still smell Thom on the paper of that correspondence. It isn't a cologne, it's Thom. Smell is very important to my amygdala.
My diaries were in that drawer as well (from age 6 through 18 I kept a diary, until Thom convinced me I might just as well keep everything in my journal since it afforded me much more space and try as he might, by introducing me to all sorts of modern writers, he couldn't knock the "Victorian" verbosity out of me). I was too stressed looking for the missing paperwork to pay the diaries more than a passing glance.
Ditto the collection of hair, including my long, long pony tail from when I first had my long hair cut off as a child at about age 9. I was a blonde! I'm thinking of making a box to hold all the samples because the typical hair trim now is 6 inches and I keep them just to see how my hair is changing over time; in other words, how much gray does it contain as we go forward?
The scramble for the elusive document also turned up these two photos of me, mounted on a mat board. I had to think for a moment who had taken the photos. I've got several friends who are photographers, but their photos are technically better than these. And I printed and mounted these photos, so they were shot with my camera.
At first I thought I'd taken them myself, shooting into a mirrored building (I'd done that as a joke when I was an undergraduate). But my mole on my cheek is where it should be if someone else were looking at me. (I had to do some mental gymnastics about this because the mole is gone now, removed in 2006.)
I realized later that night that the photos must have been taken by the young man I'd dated before I met Dick. I think I printed and mounted them as a memento for him, because for a short while we had a long-distance relationship. He returned the photos when we broke up. (He was a very proper young man on a five-year plan: get out of school, get a job, get married, have kids. He wasn't happy that I ran road races on Sunday while he was in church. Obviously it was a mis-match from the start [since I'm a pantheist and I'm arguably not proper]—and a very short relationship.)
When I look at some of the other photos people have taken of me in the past I think immediately about my relationship to the person who took the photo. When I found these photos I had only one thought, "I still have that vest! Damn, I love that vest."
No actually, I thought about how odd it was to be so young. At that time I felt so old, so "mature." Certainly I felt certain of what I was going to do and how I was going to live—and it was going to include running in road races on Sundays, so I'd already moved away emotionally from the young man taking my photo.
But life changes us in odd ways we don't expect. Sometimes there are dramatic and tragic changes. Yet for everyone there are simple changes that build, accrue a little bit every day, until one day you aren't blonde any more and you don't run because of an ankle injury that in turn sent you down a different path (for me, towards dogs).
With the dramatic and tragic changes you have to step in and respond, often just slog forward and get through things. With the small changes that creep up on you it might just be that you don't recognize more has shifted than you intended or thought possible.
I think change is inevitable. If someone looks at a photo and says she hasn't changed since she was young I'm not going to argue with her about whether or not that's a good or bad thing. If he says he has totally changed, well only he can look into himself and analyze what he finds.
I have my journals to correlate. They are filled with my twice yearly self-evaluations which are sort of personal performance reviews (I too had a plan, but it stretched longer than 5 years).
What struck me, upon seeing these photos of my younger self, was how much I had changed (and I don't just mean the outer package), while at the same time fundamentally I hadn't changed at all. I believe there are essential things that happen to us when we are young which form who we always will be. We can use the core created by those events in a positive or negative way. We can make adjustments.
Without dwelling on the past I believe it is helpful now and then to examine, not just your memory of yourself, but actual "hard copy"—contemporaneous documents so to speak. So I'm grateful that I have all those journals. They are useful to me when moving forward.
The photos also remind me that I have to keep choosing. Even though now I am supposedly as mature as I thought I was then.
It's good to have a reminder that life is about choice. We can't always choose what happens to us, but we can choose how we respond to life's events.
We have limited time. It's better to choose. Otherwise you just might end up not recognizing yourself.
Note: We never did find the papers we needed, but we were able to replace them. Somethings are replaceable—choice isn't.
Oh, and I do love that vest.