What happens to my life when I die?

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Red boxes of

Red boxes of “stuff”

“The things you own end up owning you.” –Chuck Palahniuk

I have three boxes full of stuff I will never throw away. These boxes hold years of memories, some great, some sad and some bittersweet. They contain birthday cards, old school schedules, report cards, my graduation gown and cap, notebooks full of my writing, newspaper clippings, notes from my friends, old agendas, and other stuff useless to others but precious to me.

I left these boxes back in Europe, in storage at my uncle’s house. They’re still there today but I had no space to bring them with me when I moved to New York. So until I go back to visit, they’ll stay boxed up. But over here, I have a new box of memories in my room. Little pieces of my four years here and it’s going to grow bigger over the years.

My dad recently took a trip back to the home country and he had a chance to sort through some of the stuff in storage. When he came back he told me he had thrown out his old military uniform and medals and badges. I was shocked. He was in the military for almost 20 years. How can you just throw away your medals and uniform? If nothing, they’re sentimental but I guess I understand, after all he obviously has no use for them now. Still for a moment there it still came as a surprise.

This made me think of all the stuff I’m hoarding. When will I throw them out? I’ve sorted through them before, and I’ve often thrown away things that have lost their significance over the years but what about the stuff I will never ever throw out? The things I’ll bring with me to every new city and new home in my lifetime? They’ll probably find themselves in a box somewhere in 40 years. Then I’ll die…and then what? Except the occasional piece of jewelry, I don’t own anything of my parents and grandparents. We’re not a family with heirlooms.

I like to thing one day I can show all my stuff to my kids and tell them the story behind each memento. But is that practical? Will they care? Will I still care in 30 years? Right now it feels hard to throw away these things. It’s like I’m erasing a memory and that’s one of my biggest fears. Forgetting. Losing little memories of my life. Getting Alzheimer’s. I’m so desperate to document my life that throwing away these mementos feels like throwing away a little piece of who I used to be. I still want to hold on to what used to be important to be in high school. I have a mason jar filled with old concert tickets and wristbands because I’m happy when I’m at concerts and I want a tangible reminder of that. This is also why I journal. I want to remember the little details of my life at 14, 18 and 22. It’s pretty incredible to read old journal entries and relive the happy days and the stressful ones. It’s like a window into my own life told by the person who knows it best – me.

This is all an attempt to establish my presence on this tiny Earth and huge universe. I don’t want to be nothing when I leave it. Will anyone read this very blog post in 2156? Is there a way my great-grandchildren can find this blog? Who knows what the Internet will even be by that time.

I have dozens of projects, blogs and journals scattered around in my life. I bet it’s now sounding like an unhealthy obsession and truth is it can feel like that sometimes. It’s tiring to update and record and write and take photos when I’m not even sure it will be worth it in the end. I’m realizing that it feels like I’m too busy documenting my life to actually enjoy living it in the moment. That’s also true at times. My argument is that feelings and moments are fleeting. Writing it down, taking a picture – these things help to preserve it so I can enjoy it over and over again. And if you do it well enough, I promise you the feeling is still in there. It’s like when you wish you could bottle up a specific scent. One that takes you back and stirs up that nostalgic feeling. I’m a sucker for nostalgia. I want to relive the good times. And all this documenting we can do? It’s the closest thing we have to a rewind button in life.

Do you collect and save mementos from past years? Is it hard to part with them? What do you do about it?

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Don’t Look Away, Part Two: Stay Humble

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I think about this a lot. How some of us have so much and others have so little. By “have” I mean material possessions, health and health care, jobs, a roof over their head and food to keep them full.

I recently watch an amazing New York Times video profiling a ambulance worker fighting Ebola in Monrovia. The images in that video are raw, scary and 100% a reality that I can’t imagine living in. Families who live in stone huts. Villages with no running water. Women burying their relatives stricken with Ebola.

Something as simple as a hearty meal in my house or my warm bed after a long day make me very grateful and spark one thought, always: I do not take this for granted. I never have and I hope I never will.

Stay humble, folks.

Memories engraved in song sheets

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I discovered music in the back of the school bus with a girl who was my neighbor, classmate and who later would become one of my best friends. We sat shoulder to shoulder in the row of seats at the back of the bus, sharing a set of ear buds, shuffling through songs. Band of Horses, Andrew Bird, Regina Spektor, Tegan and Sara, Jason Mraz.

My love for music began in high school and since then it has grown and matured and branched off into several interests and obsessions. But discovering new music in high school was the turning point. It was exciting to know that I didn’t have to listen to the radio ready pop sounds of Katy Perry and Britney Spears anymore. All I needed was the Internet and my group of friends – half of whom were musicians, singers and music lovers.

I don’t think I can describe how much I love music but I can try. These are my life songs and the meanings behind their significance to me.

“Wake up naked drinking coffee, making plans to change the world while the world is changing us”

I wince every time my playlist shuffles on Dave Matthews’ “Stay or Leave”. Most times I immediately skip it but other times I sigh and let the track play, knowing that I need to hear it and allow myself to remember. Each note of this song is drenched with nostalgia. It’s a beautiful song that is so heavy with feelings of the years I associate with it. Matthews is singing to a lover but this song is not exclusive to a lost love. “Stay or Leave” is my bittersweet symphony to the joy and pain of meeting and leaving best friends.

“I hope I never figure out who broke your heart. And if I do, if I do. I’d spend all night losing sleep. I’d spend the night and I’d lose my mind”

Their backs against the red brick building, their legs crossed, he starts strumming on his guitar and she starts humming “Living Room” by Tegan and Sara. This song will follow me through life. And five years later, I’ll be at a Tegan and Sara concert and text her that they’re singing this song and I wish she was here. This was the first Tegan and Sara song I heard and I’ve loved the band for nearly eight years now.

“If I don’t say this now I will surely break as I’m leaving the one I want to take”

The Fray knew exactly what they were doing with this heart wrenching song. “Look After You” reminds me of a high school crush. The butterflies were felt, the looks were shared but the feelings were never spoken out loud, at least not to the one that counted. It’s a sad memory of realizing how strong the crush was and how sincerely the lyrics described the feelings inside. As far as I’m concerned, this is his song and I’ll always be sorry we didn’t happen.

“Waking up I see that everything is OK. The first time in my life and now it’s so great. Slowing down I look around and I am so amazed. I think about the little things that make life great”

Every single line from Avril Lavigne’s “Innocence” is the heart and soul of my 16-year-old self. This song is the anthem to the three years I spend in Italy, attending high school with the best group of friends I could ask for and who I’m still friends with today. Those three years of high school were what saved my life. It was one of the best and biggest changes I’ve experienced and I owe so much to it. I wouldn’t be who I am without Italy, those friends, that opportunity. This song (from Avril Lavgine, of all people) is the one sound I hold closest to my heart as a reminder of how good I had it and how lucky I was. It was a state of bliss.

…   …   …   …   …

These are the four most memorable songs of my high school years. These melodies are intertwined with the laughs and tears and quiet thoughts and moments in which I grasped for understanding and found lyrics I could easily make my own. This is music at its finest, doing what it does best and holding my life in its song sheets.

*I would LOVE to read your own posts about your favorite songs and memories. Let me know if this has inspired you and send me a link to your own post.

Reunions and comfort

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(photo by e.b.)

(photo by e.b.)

Last summer I flew to Ann Arbor, Michigan to see one of my best friends. It was the best week I had all year. I hadn’t seen her in four years so our reunion was long overdue. We went grocery shopping, walked in downtown Ann Arbor, went to happy hour, went to our first casino ever, tried new Pinterest recipes, and marathoned The Newsroom. Friendship is an amazing comfort. We were perfectly content spending time on the couch, talking, watching TV shows and movies, eating and drinking. I miss having my best friends in the same city. Now we’re all scattered across the country and it takes hours of plane rides to reach each other. Definitely makes me look back at our high school days as lucky, lucky times.

Tales of a Global Citizen

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I’ve moved 14 times and lived in five countries. I don’t have a childhood home. I didn’t grow up with the same twenty kids from kindergarten to high school. I’ll never get to give people a tour of my home town and point out all the places my friends and I used to hang out. Those places don’t exist for me.

But I wouldn’t change a thing. I’ve never envied people their stable and secure childhoods, living in one place first grade to senior year.

Truth is I wish everyone could have had a childhood like mine. I wish you could have been at my prom in Italy at a restaurant that overlooked the Bay of Naples and Mount Vesuvius – the same volcano that destroyed Pompeii. I wish you could have gone on school trips that took you to Germany and Rome and not the local museum or zoo. I wish you could have gone to preschool in Paris and learned fluent French. I wish you could have taken a family trip to Montreal instead of spending another summer in the same old town.

But maybe your routine is your comfort. I can relate to that. I had routines two or three years in a row until I had to uproot and find comfort in the next new place. The only constant being my family, there with me through each new city.

Some people crave stability but that’s never been me. I have places to see, bags to pack and memories to make. And if anyone tries to slow me down, all I have to say is: my life’s been too interesting to stop now.

“Travel. As much as you can. As far as you can. As long as you can. Life’s not meant to be lived in one place.”