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Why I Burned 30 Years of Journals

Why I Burned 30 Years of Journals

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.

June 24, 2017

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Visitor Comments: 9

(5) Sarah, June 26, 2017 8:09 PM

One day you may regret that finality.....

Ketriellah Goldfeder, July 6, 2017 7:51 PM


Sometimes in our lives we have to move forward by taking a risk. I agree, burning journals can be risky. Maybe I'll miss them one day (I certainly do not right now). But I felt willing to take that risk in order to pursue my present goal of focusing all of my attention on my life now. Without taking risks we can sometimes get stuck.

(4) Jane Fairchild, June 26, 2017 1:50 PM

Beautiful writing - thinking of doing the same for myself

Thank you so very much of this story. Considering doing this same with my 'past' journal writings as feel it is time to let go. I have been held captive in my past for many years, suffering from PTSD, clinical (suicide) depression and great anxiety from the 'abuse' that I suffered as a child. Memories not worth holding onto. The years I have clung on past in writing pages I wrote in my own journal writings. I want to finally unlock this caged door, a door that I, myself had locked. But then I think, will I, Jane, be able to fly after all these years of a locked cage. As I burn these pages written of this past, one page by one page burning away.. no longer wanting to cling to the memory of those pages written... Yes, God holds those tears that I cried while writing pages of my life held in the webs of past, but I need to finally unlock my own door of this cage, and 'let go' . NEW MEMORIES of being married to the most precious man on this earth. NEW MEMORIES of my only brother Paul and I have reconciled from the memories of those written words of my past, and the thing I want to remember the most is when I washed my fathers and mothers feet one day in June 1992 in wanting to restore their HONOR back to them through an act of 'forgiveness' (they both violated me in many ways of abuse) I, Jane, need to unlock and open up that caged door, shake off that 'shame' and move forward to the NEW. My journal writings contain shame, tears, sorrow, death, hopelessness - why would I want to cling to this in remembering through capturing these memories in journal writing. I am choosing to unlocking my own door of my heart as a caged bird, memories that I do not want to cling to any longer. I am choosing to open that door that I myself shut, and finally be set 'free' as a bird'. Will I hold back not knowing how to fly because of clinging to those memories of time written. Lord teach me this day to fly in freedom, flying out of this unlocked cage in this moment of time.

Anonymous, July 6, 2017 7:57 PM


Thank you for sharing so deeply of yourself. You have clearly experienced much pain in your life and have already done so much to move forward on your path to healing. My journals had some amazingly beautiful parts in them but they were also the main place where I processed a lot of pain. I trust that all the good that is truly mine will stay with me and I'm very happy to forget about the painful moments. I thought about doing this for years before I was really ready but it now feels so good to no longer have them. Many blessings on your growth, healing and letting go!

(3) Margaret, June 26, 2017 5:50 AM

Burning Journals

I loved your story.. it's so great....
I somehow go through changes that only my inner conscience knows the reasons why... I throw all my journals out, can't burn them cause I use G-d's name a lot, but you know, that could just be my paranoia, throwing them out could be just as bad I guess.
When I throw them out I know I'm ready to move on.
Once they are gone, that past is gone with it....
I usually start a new.. But this time round I haven't started one ? Hmmmmm... I've kept journals since a young teen.. Maybe I've entered a part of my life where I don't need one??

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