Yesterday I accidentally deleted over 13,000 messages from my email account and didn't flinch. Well, almost. There was a momentary feeling of complete panic at the loss of an epistolary record of my existence dating back to 2008, but it was followed by a sense of Zen-like calm. Had I effectively erased the past? Pema Chodron would be proud of me. I was living in the moment; mind no longer cluttered by ruminations of days long gone by. It was time to finally let go of my tattered copy of Chodron's When Things Fall Apart that has been stuffed in backpacks and suitcases and hauled around the world a few times.
Let me explain, and I will begin by saying I don't blame Steve Jobs or my new iPad. I take full responsibility for pressing the delete button that clearly warned I would erase over 13,000 messages from my mailbox. Uh-oh. Wrong mailbox. I had skimmed over the instructions for Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP), POP servers and pushing old messages to the new mail account on the iPad. Never, ever, skim technical instructions on your electronic gadgets if you want to hang onto your past. You will become unplugged; unmoored in an ethereal sea of communiqué's that once had you solidly anchored to memory.
Lost in gadgets
It was really hard to let go of the tiny folder of fan mail, but hey, it might spur me to gather more accolades. I have nothing now. No emails from people I have never met telling me how brilliant I am to fall back on. Time to get to work, make new friends on Facebook and gather new followers on Twitter.
Why I treasured the hate mail is beyond me. Readers can always send more.
I think I lost a book draft along the way, but there was only a snowball's chance I would ever finish the thing. Now, when people ask me how it is coming along I can honestly say, "I lost it." This is the 21st century equivalent of "the dog ate my homework." No, it is more like absolute freedom from writer's block, or its opposite the Midnight Disease of hypergraphia.
The letter of apology from the addict represented the gold standard of rumination. I never really believed in its sincerity, but it was tucked away in a folder within a folder -- the Fort Knox of historical preservation. That I was able to elicit the hollow apology represented power and control I never possessed. Time does heal all wounds. Sort of.
Untold word counts of research on everything from baboons, gorillas, oil, earthquakes, shady NGOs, third world conservationists, the State Department, Haiti, Rwanda, South Africa, Japan, Kenya, Mozambique and the fate of rebel General Laurent Nkunda is gone. Vanished. Missing. Wiped out. Certain NGO's (you know who you are) and the regime of Paul Kagame in Rwanda might be happy to learn this. It was too big a job for me anyway. I keep telling Human Rights Watch they should figure out what happened to Nkunda. I feel responsible for him in a way. I was the last Western journalist to interview him before Kagame kidnapped him.
Will I miss the spam folder? The really intense junk mail for every sex toy and libido enhancer in the universe began after a mercenary in Congo posted my email on a prostitution Listserv as a way of warning. Listservs are today's equivalent of bathroom walls. Long story, and I really do not want to remember it in detail. Let's just say the spam became a remembrance of things past that are best forgotten. I suppose the spam won't stop, but I know how to get rid of it now in one click.
Lost also are the intellectual exchanges with close friends, but, hey, I'd rather get a phone call. The sound of a voice is a memory worth holding close to the heart and wrapping in the veil of the soul. The soul is the true "Ethernet."
So, moving forward, the past is truly dead, if not fully buried. The present remains full of wonder and at my age, the future no longer looms as the infinite unexplored territory. The inevitable is tantalizingly close but impossible to know or imagine. An elderly friend in Africa calls it the "great journey."
Thank you, Pema Chodron, for your teachings, which remind me that all of life's snags are opportunities. I am all for getting "unstuck," being provoked and moving forward. Life's tasks can be seemingly meaningless.
Thank goodness I still have a copy of When Things Fall Apart on my Kindle. If I accidentally erase it, there is an archive in that "cloud" thing -- somewhere.