Valuing Words and Memories

It’s nine days into the new year, and so far I’ve kept my resolution! I’m not generally much of a New Year’s resolution type of person, but this year I decided my resolution was to journal more. As a child, I wrote in journals and diaries (with locks and keys – as if I had super secretive things to say at a young age!). As an adult it felt, at times, that it would be narcissistic to write about myself. It turns out, I was wrong to think that way. Keeping a journal has nothing to do with narcissism – and everything to do with valuing words and valuing memories.

I have always been someone who values words. I am a big fan of saying what we mean and meaning what we say – and of being thoughtful and intentional with language. We are surrounded by words. Today’s 21 year olds have watched more than 20,000 hours of television, talked on the phone for over 10,000 hours, and sent or received 250,000 emails or instant messages. Words abound and it’s easy to think they do not matter. But they do.

Words are powerful. Words are a gift we can give others and a gift we receive from others. Words of our parents and grandparents, our friends, our students and children – many of these words become our teachers. Words can fracture individuals and communities. And words can help heal and take individuals and communities to new places. For many, words are and will be our legacy.

This connection is so important – words and memory are intertwined. And I certainly value memory too. But, it turns out that remembering is getting harder the older I get! So in 2016, I decided to combine my valuing of words with my valuing of remembering, and create some journals. I had gotten two great gifts that made this even more possible: a “one line a day” journal that has space on each page for five years of memories from a particular date and a Q&A three year journal that invites me and my fiancé to answer a thought-provoking question each day. In both of these journals, I’m not writing a lot, but I am enjoying the pause I take each night to reflect on my day and to reflect with my partner on our relationship. And, I have no doubt it will be a real treat to look back at these journals over the years and have a snapshot of this time.

I’m constantly reminded that memories are so powerful. Yes, we all hold memories in our hearts, but it’s also nice to have photos and written materials that bring us back to a certain time and place. Sadly, I was reminded of this this week when a close childhood friend died. I spent the night I heard that news poring through thousands of photos on my computer and pulling out the ones of that friend. Each photo brought with it a slew of memories that I might have otherwise forgotten. While that was a sad occasion for wanting to remember the past, it was so powerful to have tangible memories to go along with those I hold in my heart.

Judaism has long emphasized the power of memory. The word “remember” appear in the Torah 169 times! Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, has also been referred to as Yom HaZikaron, the Day of Remembrance. On Passover, we are told to remember we were strangers in the land of Egypt, and we taste symbolic foods and tell stories and enact events of the past specifically to remember. On Sukkot, Jews traditionally don’t just talk about what it was like for our ancestors to be so agriculturally focused, but some build sukkot (huts) and eat their meals and sleep in them to remember what the experience of our ancestors was like.

We have collective memories and individual memories of the past, and today’s thoughts and activities become tomorrow’s memories. My goal this year is to help strengthen my ability to remember those memories – to use words to give voice to them – and to preserve them for me and future generations.

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