Looking back

A couple of weeks ago I performed a little annual ritual: putting all my Christmas cards in a shoebox, and taking the chance to have a leaf through the box’s older contents. It’s a little saunter around the Museum of Me. And not all of it is nice: a letter here or there from someone I fell out with or treated badly; funeral orders of service and an obituary cutting. These made me sad, though I’m glad I’ve never yet succumbed to the annual temptation to throw some away – it seems important to hang onto the ones that remind me of bad things, just as much as the ones that remind me of good.

But there are also letters from former pupils expressing thanks, leaving cards from jobs I barely remember with heartfelt good wishes from names I can barely match to a face, and slips of paper on which people wrote puns or jokes. In a similar moment of tidying and sorting, I found my grandfather’s old hip flask in the kitchen cupboard – something I’d forgotten I had at all. When I opened its box, out fell two slips of paper, each with a poem on it. Reading them, and the circumstances of finding them, brought a lump to my throat.

I tend not to live in the past – or at least, I try not to. I think it’s important in life to be present in the moment where we are now, and to appreciate that for what it is. But it’s nice from time to time to look back, especially with a few things to jog the memory. It reminds me that the past is made of neither gold nor shit, but the same messy mix of the two as now.

Photo credit: Rich Bowen via Flickr