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Why I Burned 30 Years of Journals

June 25, 2017 | by Ketriellah Goldfeder

To move forward, don’t look back.

A few weeks ago I burned 30 years of journals and letters.

I've been thinking about doing this for years but the final push was, strangely enough, a bad haircut.

The day before my youngest daughter's Bat Mitzvah, we went to get her hair cut. You know how it goes: you tell the hairdresser the style you want many times (hair kept as long as possible with an ombre dye). Said hair dresser assures you that she understands and shows you over and over again how long your hair will be. An hour later you leave shell-shocked with a totally different haircut (in my daughter’s case four inches shorter than expected).

The next morning, my daughter's sadness about her hair set in, and her should've, could've mind loop began . . . I should've just had her dye my tips and not do an ombre… I could've just had it straightened… we shouldn't have paid her … A good chunk of her morning was spent imagining that she could somehow magically go into the past and make a better decision with a better outcome.

As an adult I recognized the dead-end nature of this type of magical thinking. Not because I'm above it, but because I've spent much more time than I'd like to admit thinking about the past and imagining how things would be different if I had made different choices. But as I grow older I'm able to catch myself a little quicker each time.

So, I wondered, what can this bad haircut teach us about becoming an adult? How can I take this hard situation and turn it into a teaching and blessing for my daughter on the auspicious day of her Bat Mitzvah?

As I sat with those questions, these words came to me: walk away and don't look back.

I was reminded of Lot’s wife, who after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, was told to flee with her husband and daughters and not to look back. “Escape for your life. Do not look back or stop anywhere in the valley. Escape to the hills, lest you be swept away” (Genesis 19:17).

Lot's wife couldn’t resist and looked back. She was instantly turned into a pillar of salt.

The more I'm thinking about the past, the more stuck I become.

I know this to be true in my life as well. The more I'm thinking about the past, the more stuck I become.

I'm not saying that we can't be reflective or make amends – just that the bulk of our energy has to be oriented toward the present with future goals as our guiding light.

After my daughter had completed her Bat Mitzvah service I blessed her with all of my maternal love and wisdom to have vision that looks forward, instead of back.

As my daughter is moving into the beginning of her adulthood, I am also moving into a new phase of my life. I just turned 45 and have successfully raised all of my children to the Bar/Bat Mitzvah age. It feels big to me. The intensity of early child rearing has settled and I have some ambitious projects that I'm excited to work on. I know that in order to succeed I have to bring all of my energy to this present moment.

For me that meant gathering 30 years of journals and letters that were piled up in my closet and burning them one by one.

30 years of secrets, heartbreaks, yearnings, kvetches, prayers, dreams and grocery lists.

I had two friends with me to witness. I opened each journal and letter, read a piece aloud, and offered it onto the flames while saying prayers that I learned from my teacher, Sara Yehudit Schneider:

After reading about a positive moment: Hashem (God), Thank you for all the sweet experiences of my life but help me to stay in the present.

And after the negative ones: Hashem (God) help me find a way of healing this memory, perhaps by just letting it go. In the meantime, help me to stay in the present.

As I watched the fire consume the papers, a heaviness lifted from my shoulders and my chest expanded with a deep breath. I felt free. Free from feeling that my present life is encumbered by my past events and choices. Free to expand my vision of what is possible.

24 hours after I burned the last page the fire pit was still hot. Under the protection of a thick layer of silky gray ash the coals were still smoldering, reflecting the intensity of what I had just released.

And now, when I open my closet in the morning and see the empty shelf where the journals and letters used to be, my mouth widens into a huge smile and I go out with renewed energy to conquer the day.

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