It is amazing how much life can be crammed into a simple plastic tote.
Over the July 4 weekend I took time to go through some boxes items I have saved through the years. After our basement flooded last summer, forcing us to throw out a lot of items we had not stored properly, we started reevaluating what we had in storage and why we were keeping it. The process is ongoing, as every time we open a box we end up on a trail back to the people and places that made each element so special.
First I pulled out a fistful of photos, most of them cheesy posed pics from high school dances. There are people who contend that high school is the best time of anyone’s life. My severe acne and brown corduroy sport coat with elbow patches are introduced as evidence to the contrary.
Then came items from the infancy of my journalism career, including the story about a high school racquetball prodigy that I wrote at the Ball State University summer journalism workshop. I was surprised how well that piece holds up, but there also was my now embarrassing, self-indulgent final column for the Merrillville High School newspaper, The Mirror. I’m now convinced I held onto that column as a reminder of how not to write.
There were bundles of papers I worked on that covered major events, including 9/11 and the death of Princess Diana, and others celebrating championships by a couple of my favorite teams, the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Bulls. As I flipped through the pages, I was overcome by a flood of faces and emotions. The trip on the Wayback Machine made me wonder just why we are wired to hold onto this kind of stuff.
In a 2013 story in The New York Times, Constantine Sedikides discussed his work on the Southhampton Nostalgia Scale, a social-psychology questionnaire.
“Nostalgic stories often start badly, with some kind of problem, but then they tend to end well, thanks to help from someone close to you,” Sedikides said.
This absolutely was the case with another newspaper tearsheet, one that features a column I wrote about a week after the sudden death of my mother. She had gone in for surgery for a kidney stone, but ended up with septic shock due to massive infection. She was mostly unresponsive for two weeks, and my sister, brother and I took turns at her bedside. My sister and I were in the room when Mom eventually passed on.
The column was a letter to Mom talking about the outstanding care she received in the hospital and the dedicated professionals who did their best to care for her; they also made the hardest two weeks of my life a little more bearable. I cried as I read it, tears of enduring sadness over the loss of the greatest influence in my life and tears of gratitude for the memory of the health care workers and everything they did for Mom and for us.
“Nostalgia makes us a bit more human,” Sedikides said in the Times article. He also said he now works to increase opportunities for moments about which he can grow nostalgic.
As I worked my way through the box, some things ended up in the trash; their importance faded over the years to the point that the space is better reserved for other things. But that column is safe, along with both the positive and painful memories it rekindles. It’s a reminder that even in bad times, there are good people doing good work.
Bob Satnan is the communications director for Sedalia School District 200.