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Why we collect our memories

On Thanksgiving morning, I was writing about giving thanks, and I found myself wondering about what I had been thankful for in previous years. So I looked back on Thanksgivings from the past to see what I had written.

When you write and publish a post every single day for more than 19 years, you have content to sort through.

I found several posts from previous Thanksgivings.

Some were lists of things for which I had been (and still was) thankful. One post expressed gratitude for my agent, Taryn. I wrote about being thankful for possibility and being annoyed with Whole Food for being too pretentious to sell Diet Coke. I wrote about being thankful for wellness and life in the midst of the pandemic.

Then I found a post from November 24, 2011, that described a predawn encounter with a skunk on my front lawn. As my dog, Kaleigh, and I emerged from the house, I found myself face to face with an enormous skunk and a terrible smell. Moments before, the skunk had apparently sprayed something on the front lawn, so the air was thick with its scent, and the skunk looked alert and angry.

We stared at each other for a while – man and dog and skunk – before the skunk casually trotted off, leaving me with my first bit of thanks on that Thanksgiving Day.

Here’s the thing:

I had completely forgotten about that encounter with the skunk, but upon reading the post, it all came back to me instantaneously. For a moment, I was standing on my stoop again, Kaleigh at my side, staring down an outraged skunk in a sort of three-species Mexican standoff.

And with all of that, I was given the chance to spend some time awash in the memory of a best friend who passed away years ago. For a few moments, Kaleigh was with me again, standing by my side, as she has once done for nearly 18 years.

What a blessing it was and still is.

Then I found a 2009 post that strongly recommended an essay about football, excerpted from Chuck Closterman’s then-new book, “Eating the Dinosaur.” I had no recollection of the piece, so I clicked the link, found the essay, and read.

It’s excellent. I can’t recommend it enough.

Did you see what happened there? The 2009 version of me recommended that the 2022 version of me read something that my former self particularly enjoyed. It was as if the 2009 version of me sent a message to the future, alerting me to something that would give me delight in the wee hours of Thanksgiving morning 13 years later.

Remarkable. Right?

This is why I write and tell stories about my life. It’s why I create a tangible, lasting record of my days.

It’s why you should, too.

If we march through our days, making no attempt to hold onto the things that matter, we toss away those things to the ash heap of forgotten memories. We treat these precious moments like they are meaningless and disposable, and in doing so, we reduce the scope and depth of our lives. We look back on our lives and see far less than we deserve to see.

Both of these blog posts were written before I began Homework for Life. They are precursors to a method that is far more effective for me today.

Also far more effective for the thousands of people around the world who engage in Homework for Life alongside me.

It doesn’t take much to hold onto a memory. It requires very little of you in terms of time and energy to write down a few sentences about your day. It may seem tedious and meaningless at the moment, but when you have the chance to look back and rediscover the past, spend time awash in memory, and feel the completeness of a life lived, you will be indescribably thankful to your past self for the work they did.