My mother was an avid keeper of journals.
Sometimes I would see them strewn about the house; an old notebook or a little, cute red diary. Sometimes I would take up journal writing as well, but never with the same enthusiasm as my mother. I had nothing against keeping diaries, and at times I even wished I would do it more. But I never felt satisfied after writing in my diary. It was a chore to me, a chore that I did repeatedly in hopes of bettering myself and my life in some way.
My mother would try to encourage my siblings and I to write in journals more often than we did growing up. To her, it was important to touch base with yourself and your thoughts. To further encourage this habit, she would buy us beautiful leather bound diaries for holiday and birthday presents. But I still couldn’t quite grasp the concept, even as a moody teenager. I was thinking all of the time, and I knew exactly what I was thinking all of time. What difference did it make if I wrote it down on paper? More often than not, I was left feeling more discouraged at the end of a journal entry than when I first started the journal entry. But like brushing my teeth, or doing my homework, it was something I did because I felt it was the right thing to do. A way of taking care of yourself. I suppose I think this way because my mother had instilled this thought in my head.
It wasn’t until I had moved out that it hit me; I wish I had written more. As I rummage through my old things, I can find photographs from my childhood and high school days. I can see on prom I am smiling, at the beach I am laughing when my hair is blowing in the wind. But what am I thinking those days? I have little stolen moments on film but none on paper. After moving out, I started to long to put together my childhood, so I turned to re-reading my diaries. In the process of doing so, I learned a lot of things about not just myself, but getting older in general:
- I was infinitely more self-centered than I ever thought.
As a kid growing up, I was always seen as the sweet one. By both my family and my schoolmates. I know that ‘self-centered’ would have never been the first term to come to anyone’s head if asked to describe me, but I was. I read over once what I had written as an eleven and twelve-year-old and I am surprised at the lack of insight I had on what was going on around me. But I am not alone in this, I know everyone is self-centered in a way. Children, especially, tend to be caught up in their own worlds. No matter how insightful or selfless I thought I was as a pre-teen, it is obvious to me nearly a decade later how oblivious I was. This was not my fault, however. Is it possible to know what we don’t know? I like to wonder now what I will learn in the next decade. How oblivious am I now, as I write this article?
- A lot can change in just one year.
One of my favorite things I noticed as I re-read my diaries, was watching my own maturity develop as I went from year to year. And as I noticed myself maturing, I noticed the people I hung out with matured as well. The world seemed to get older and wiser the more recent my diary entries were. I knew, like anyone, that it is normal to get wiser as you get older. But I was not quite aware of just how much a single year can change someone, let alone myself. I see it in my friends, too. Something that once might have held a friend back three years ago, I can watch now as they tackle the same problem with ease. When did this happen? I think to myself, sometimes. What did I miss? But I hadn’t missed anything at all. I had been by my friends’ side all along the past eight years. But in the now of everyday life, it never occurred to me to make mental notes of the subtle changes of maturity within my friends, and vice versa.
Have you ever been out on a sunny spring day? You might notice, every so often, that the shadows are getting longer and that the sky is getting darker. We don’t often notice with our own eyes the sun setting in real time, but in even half an hour it can be startling how far along the sun has moved in the sky. That is how I felt reading these diary entries. I am watching my own sun set, in the least morbid way I can put it. I try not to look how far along I have gone too often. I fear I will not make progress if I focus on progress itself too much.
- Whether or not life gets better is subjective. But whether or not life changes is not.
I feel sometimes we as humans, myself included, tend to get stuck in a rut when things are down. Whether it’s life changes, mental health going downwards, change in weather; we get lost in the thought of, “When will it get better?” But life getting better is entirely subjective, and I have to remind myself of this. When I read back on what I had written as an anxiety-ridden teen with no sense of hope, I realize that nothing in my life is really “better” like I had hoped it would be. And this ultimately made me realize I had just been wanting change. And once life had changed, I was a lot happier. Some might say that this made life better, but the ways my life change did not strike me as “better” at first.
When I moved out my life was a whirlwind; it still is. Trying to figure out school, where I was moving, where I was working, how to pay the bills, how to do taxes, grocery shopping. It was overwhelming and entirely different than what I had spent my life doing up to that point. And yet, in the midst of this, I was happier than ever. Even on my darkest days I did not feel as low as I had been previously. I was able to mold a better life out of what had changed. The only thing that got better was my patience towards life. The rest changed on its own and I allowed it. It is easy to get discouraged when life does not seem to be getting better, per say. But life is changing, constantly. The people in our lives are changing constantly, as well. The viewpoints of others are changing, and thus the world changes a little bit every day. The disappointments and discouragements of life that we face now may not exist years down the road. But it is more likely than not, now more than ever, that our entire world will be vastly different in the next decade. Will life get better in those ten years? That is up to you. And it is also up to me.
My mother would be proud I think, to know how much her encouragement has helped me to learn a lot about myself and the world. I keep my diaries close to me now, though I still seldom write in them. When life changes again, I will write again. For now, I read.