On Christmas Day, 2013, I was standing in the kitchen with my mom, and both of us were crying…because three days earlier my dad had passed away.
They say when a loved one dies that a piece of us dies with them. What’s interesting about this statement is that it’s actually literal. The neurons in my brain that were associated with my dad’s voice, his face, his smile, his laugh, his reasoning…those neurons were no longer firing. A part of my brain, a part of me that only my dad could trigger, had literally died, or was at least dying.
After several minutes of crying, my mom finally spoke. She said she’d collected my dad’s journals and placed them in her night stand. We walked back to her room and took out several binders.
The first binder I opened was a blue one. It contained 100 letters that my dad had written to me while I was living in South America over a decade ago. I had thrown away the printed copies he had mailed me. I had no idea he had kept the originals. He explained that the letters would be his journal for the next 2 years. As I read the letters, I got inside his head. Or at least he got inside my head. I heard his voice. I saw his face. I heard him laugh. The neurons in my brain started firing again. And for the first time in 72 hours I felt just a little bit better. In that moment, my dad was ever so slightly resurrected.
I was recently reading advice from Scott Kelley, a retired NASA astronaut who provided advice for living in isolation: things like follow a schedule, go outside, get a hobby…things that really apply to all of us all the time. But I was especially intrigued that one of his tips was to keep a journal. NASA has been studying the effects of isolation for decades, and they were quite surprised to find out how valuable keeping a journal is.
It turns out journaling reduces stress, improves immune system, strengthens our memory, improves emotional well-being, increases our focus, boosts creativity, improves our mood. Does anyone not want those benefits?
The best time to start writing in your journal was 20 years ago. But the next best time is today. So kids, please keep a journal. It’s a simple idea. Please, take it seriously. It will make you happier. It will make you healthier. And most importantly, someday in the all-too-soon future, your own children will be standing in the kitchen, devastated, needing to hear your voice, needing to feel your love, needing to connect with you. I hope they’ll be able to read your journal.
And shoot, even sooner than that, you’ll be the one in the kitchen. And maybe you’ll click on a Meikles and Dimes episode and the neurons will fire. And for just a moment you’ll feel a little bit better.
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