Part 1: College personalities not so unique
In college, I remember meeting many classmates who seemed unique. I couldn’t imagine anyone else like them. Thirty years later, I’ve seen people like each. Over and over as college classes turn over every four years. I’ve also seen them grow up to become like everyone else.
There’s some variation, of course, but the differences aren’t that great.
Part 2: My high school girlfriend
In high school, I met a girl junior year, which would have been around the winter 1987–88. Senior year we fell in love and she became my first girlfriend. We stayed together into college, though she went to school outside Boston and I want to school in Manhattan.
After breaking up, we stayed in touch on and off until a few years ago. We both saved our letters and souvenirs from the other. The last time we saw each other, we meant to exchange the boxes we’d saved of each other’s letters. For reasons I forget, I didn’t bring her letters that I’d saved. She brought mine to let me read and lent me the box.
What a treat, I thought, to read what I’d written three decades before. Young Josh in love! I figured it would give me insight to the me of back then.
We didn’t get along that time she gave me that box so we haven’t spoken since. As best I can tell, she’s comfortable giving it away forever. She’s got a family with two daughters who must be close to college age.
Part 3: Preferring less to more
10 years ago, as documented in my post here Less, please, I began preferring less stuff. I started by getting rid of my books, which I saw as creating freedom.
Part 4: Synthesis
Do you see the dilemma the first three parts lead to?
These old letters are more stuff. More material to weigh me down and inhibit freedom. So maybe I should get rid of them.
Unlike books, though, I can’t replace them if I get rid of them and then regret it. So maybe I should keep them.
But, from part 1, I’ve seen decades of students in their late teens and 20s who, like me back then, consider themselves unique, yet are like everyone else and will become more so.
Teenagers in love feel their emotions are eternal, unique, powerful, and important. They feel no one has ever felt this way. I did, at least. The ups were higher than anything before and the downs lower.
In the years I’ve had the box of letters I wrote and mementos I gave her, I haven’t reviewed any of it. I think I sense I’ll find what I wrote just like what any teenager would write. What I thought was the most important stuff in the world when I created it, I’ll probably find dull and no more connected to me than the love-struck doggerel of any teenager.
Still, I wrote it. Nobody else did. If the child is the father to the man, it represents my ancestry. It’s where I came from.
You could say, “what does a roughly two-year relationship from the 80s mean now?” On the other hand, we were each other’s first love. Maybe I’ll find insight that helps me improve my life. But maybe going through it all will waste my time, find something I don’t want to remember, or tie me down to a past not worth dwelling on.
But how different was I, if at all?
What might I lose in not keeping it?
I’m not suffering here. Just pondering.
Part 5: What should I do with it?
I’ve thought about sharing the letters with others I’ve been close to, but I’ve never acted on it. I don’t have children or a wife who might learn more about this man in their lives. I’m not so vain to think that future historians would treasure learning more about me should I become famous or heroic.
Still, no matter how little I can bring myself to value it, I can’t replace it if I get rid of it and regret it. Scanning it would take too long and wouldn’t likely lead me to read it.
If anyone reading these words has any insight, please tell me. I’m leaning toward putting it in the recycling, but fear regret once I can’t see it again. Before recycling, I’d still have to read it all, or at least a lot of it.
I don’t feel like reading it. But I don’t feel like keeping it.
Situations like this one, by the way, lead me to get rid of things immediately, like Maude throwing the ring Harold gave her — one of the nicest presents that she’s received in years — into the lake: “So I’ll always know where it is.”
I’ve learned not to keep these things in the first place. They take on value from keeping them. It’s not inherent.
She had a plan that the ring would have gotten in the way of. I was about to say I don’t, but what else is the Less, please post?
I don’t mind examining these thoughts. I write blog posts anyway. I agree with the timeless view that the unexamined life is not worth living, and I consider this consideration examining my life.
I suspect I’ll leave the materials out for a few months, read a few letters, and then, like Maude, recycle the paper so I’ll always know where it is. The mistake was accepting and keeping them in the first place.
But I may switch and keep them.
Read my weekly newsletter
On initiative, leadership, the environment, and burpees