Mimi, my wife’s grandmother, recently passed away. She was 95 years old, so while more than a few tears were shed, mostly it was a celebration of a long life lived to the full. A couple weeks ago, as the resident bookworm of the family, I was invited to look through Mimi’s books to see if I was interested in any. As I gazed upon the bookshelves, looking for where to start, I saw out of the corner of my eye a big pile of books stacked up in the corner.
“What books are those?” I asked.
“Oh those aren’t books. They’re Mimi’s journals.”
I was stunned. I had known Stephanie’s grandmother for over 20 years, and had no idea she kept a journal. Not only that, she was dedicated. There were stacks and stacks of them, each book representing a year of life experience.
Stephanie picked one up from the early 80’s and looked up her birthday and found an entry about a long forgotten birthday party. I picked up a journal labeled “1993” – this was the year Stephanie and I met – and flipped to October. I knew that not long after we started dating, we had watched a movie at Mimi’s house. Sure enough, on the entry for October 5, I was met with these words: “Stephanie and her friend Mark Lee came by and we watched Unforgiven with Clint Eastwood and Gene Hackman.” Not only did Mimi remember that we had watched a movie, she remembered what movie it was.
The story goes that she had gone on a trip back in the 70’s and decided to keep a diary to document her travels. She liked this idea so much that she decided to keep the diary going when she got home from her trip. Her journey spilled back over into regular life, and with it came the journal. A habit was begun that lasted for decades. Rain or shine, sick or well, busy or bored, she had written almost every day.
I have considered myself an avid journaler since about 1995. Now, by “avid” I mean I’ve sporadically written in notebooks in a scrawl that nobody (even me) can make out. Rather than documenting the day, I either just vented about the circumstances of my life or just used it as a warmup for other writing, kind of like practicing scales on the guitar. I took pride in my bad handwriting, and a little solace. Even if somebody found them, they wouldn’t be able to read them.
Until discovering Mimi’s journals, I had never given a second thought to the fact that the people finding them might actually want to read them. Inspired by Mimi, I’ve started a new and improved journaling habit. I’m using a program called Day One. You can use it on your computer, your phone, and your tablet, and can even sync across all devices. You can keep multiple journals on it. I have created a journal called “Other writing” that is basically a digital version of the reams of crap I’ve been writing off and on for the last couple of decades. But I’ve also started a journal called “Daily Record” which is much closer to what Mimi did. Every night before going to bed, I’m writing about what we did that day and how I felt about it. When possible I even try to throw in a picture.
I have learned that keeping a journal doesn’t just benefit me. There are benefits that might even outlive me. Thanks, Mimi, for pointing that out.