I’ve kept a 5-Year Journal since 2010. I make brief, daily entries that are snapshots of my day. This day (March 5) in 2020, I was in Sydney, Australia, having just arrived after a lovely, week-long vacation in Honolulu. It was before COVID.

This trip marked a transition in my personal and professional life. I had successfully undergone hip replacement surgery (both hips) and was beginning to reclaim my health. I was closing my private practice. I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do next, but I knew that I was done with how I had been earning a living.

Looking Back

I read the entries now, from March, 2023, and marvel at all that has happened in such a short time. On the collective plane, tectonic shifts in politics occurred around the world, public health rose to a challenge not seen in 100 years, the environment continued to offer up one calamity after another, and economies all over the world took a beating. On the personal, I am now living with long-COVID, re-designing how I support myself, and reclaiming parts of my soul as a writer, thinker, and advocate.

I scan the entries I made during 2020, 2021, and 2022 and find themes of grief, loss, high hopes and false starts, successes and failures. I tried lots of new things, made new friends and deepened connections with old ones. Holidays came and went, marked mostly by a self-imposed sequestration.

The New “Normal”

This ‘hunkering-down’ became a way of life for me, as did wearing masks and listening to daily reports of death rates from COVID. Early hopes that it would quickly resolve turned into political gamesmanship, with all sides pointing fingers and claiming the higher ground.

Those who suffered became statistics and lost not just their lives, but also their individual stories. When reduced to numbers, the sting of the calamity was numbed, and I along with so many others, remained disconnected from the enormity of loss. Besides, other drama competed for the headlines.

I Am No Samuel Pepys

Looking back over the entries, I am amused by the sheer drudgery of some of my entries. Many have to do with weather reports. Some are a bit gossipy. There are quite a few noting my desire to make behavioral changes (notably lose weight) that, over time, point to lack of success.

There are quite a few occasions that, without the aide of the entry, I would not remember what happened or who was involved. But in reading the notes, I am able to vividly recall the events. This includes the passing of people who had touched my life in some way.

Why Am I Compelled to Catalogue My Life?

I don’t know that there is a specific purpose behind my daily entries. I am aware that I made a promise to myself to keep at it, and it has become an enjoyable ritual. Yet, I rarely go back over the entries. It is as if the journals are a safety deposit box of memories that, should I ever want to get into them, I can.

Because the space to write in is limited, I am tasked with parsing what I put down. There are times where I am very conscious about what I am noting and how I am writing about it. And there are many other times where entries are formulaic combinations of weather reports, quality of sleep, exercise (or not), dining, and the stuff of daily living.

The Rhythm of Ebb and Flow

When I flip through my journal entries, I can find an ebb and flow of my life. Living day to day, I do not appreciate just how powerful this rhythm is. It is only seeing it captured on the page, year after year, one day compared with the others over five years, that these different patterns emerge.

Across the years I have kept these journals, people and pets I dearly loved have died. I noted their passing, and recall them with joy and happiness, and sometimes sorrow. New pets have taken the place of the old, and new people have come into my life. And I note this also.

Mindfulness or Mindlessness?

I have spent many years practicing mindfulness. Paying attention to thoughts. Watching for spaces between thoughts. Being aware and letting go of the awareness. This practice has provided enormous benefits to me in terms of my capacity to stay present to the vagaries and challenges of life.

I am becoming aware of the benefits of mindlessness only now. There are days when writing in my journal is a mindless activity. The weather report entries, for example. Nothing more than a brief synopsis of how my life was impacted by nature, and my reaction. Mindless.

Continuity and Perspective

The greatest benefit of journal writing, to my mind, is that it offers me continuity. Frankly, having to keep track of the details of a life that is slowing down at this stage, is vastly different from when I was working professionally. My journal is the container of those details that I would otherwise overlook or fabricate without having put them down on paper.

It also contains the benchmarks of my life, in an organized and well-defined way, so that I can look back and see how I was reacting to things or what was causing me joy or distress in that moment. Those benchmarks provide evidence that I can survive change, and most of the time, come out with only minor bruising.

After I Am Gone

I don’t know what will happen to my journals after I die. I suspect that they will end up in some landfill. But just in case they don’t, I hope whoever opens them and reads through them, will get a glimpse of a life filled with wonder, gratitude, and joy.

One response to “Keeping Track of Time”

  1. Geri Avatar

    I, too, have kept journals most of my life. But I have begun to shed (aka shred) the old ones. I hope to leave little behind for others to ponder!