As I grow steadily older, there are matters I’d like to deal with before I may not have a chance. I don’t know how much time I’ve got left! By the same token, there are not many people who do leave this world with all things in order. Often things that could have been done remain undone, and worse, things that should have been said, unsaid.
So, with the thought in mind not to leave too much work for our children at the time of my departure, I decided to clean out my filing cabinet. I’d been putting it off. The reason I kept postponing was not that I wouldn’t enjoy it. On the contrary, I love rummaging through paper. I’m never happier than when I’m surrounded by paper – books, magazines or newspapers.
As I slide my fingers along the folders, I suspect I won’t be able to finish this job in one afternoon. I’ll end up reading everything one more time. But isn’t that what I saved it for?
Beginning with the letter A, I find the “Articles” folder. I’ve saved many articles throughout the years, most of them from The Banner and also quite a few from Christian Courier. What I feared would happen, did. I start reading an article entitled “Legacy” by Dr. J.H. Kromminga, an interim Banner editor. He writes about the legacy he would like to leave at his departure. A subject I can easily relate to now. However, I check myself and put it, not in the trash bin, but on the floor beside me, for perusal later tonight.
‘I should hang on to these’
Next I come across two Banner articles entitled “Covenant Breaking” and “Celebrating Our Covenant” written by the same author. I skim what I’d previously underlined with a red pen. I remember, 20 years ago, my reason for keeping these two articles – the comfort they spoke of, knowing our children to be part of God’s covenant people. I feel I should hang on to these. I’d like my children to read them. I put the two articles beside me on top of the other one.
The title of yet another Banner article jumps out at me: “The Unavoidable Blessing of Aging”! by Rev. J.R. Kok. Again, a timely subject! Who doesn’t want to receive a blessing when aging? I can’t help myself – I begin to read. The reverend is only 57 years old! He claims, though people tell him he’s only a baby, that his body is whispering to him that he is aging. He wants to live well in what he calls his third age. Since I’m already a lot older than he was at the time he wote the article, I decide I can trash this one.
Next I find a Banner magazine with dozens of immigration stories. Also for keeps! This magazine, too, goes on top of the aforementioned articles to enjoy later this evening.
There are still several more articles in this file. I decide that I’ll have to read them all once more and put the whole file neatly on top of the others.
I move on to the letter B. I find nothing filed under B!
Under C, I find “Correspondence.” Letters! The names of people I knew long ago. I’m dearly tempted to read these letters again and bring back to mind all the precious people with whom I was once in touch. But I resist! I know that these must go in the trash or I’ll never get this job done. Besides, nobody will be interested in my correspondence when I’m not here anymore.
Under C, I also find the folder “Christmas Stories and Songs,” along with various poems, some in my native Dutch. I’m engrossed again. I read a beautiful poem by A. Wagenaar, a well-known Dutch poet. I’m reminded how deeply poetry in my mother’s tongue still moves me.
Reading Dutch Christmas carols, I daydream about my birthplace. I distinctly remember a night when we were singing these very carols by the organ at somebody’s house and walking home afterward with a friend. The streets were so quiet I thought I heard angels sing and sheep bleat. I wish I could still find streets like that. . . .
I start to become melancholy. How can I dump these memories? Of course, I can’t. I don’t know where they’ll end up after I am gone, but I know I can’t throw them out now.
Another treasure in the C file – the last issue of The Christian Woman, December 1974, first published in 1956 as Wij Vrouwen (We Women). Its goal was to establish contact among the first wave of immigrant women who spent a lot of time alone at home and didn’t know the English language. This final edition has lots of interesting stories that I must read again. So, it too, goes on the pile on the floor.
“Documents” contains some old passports. I find one that belonged to my dear dad. We landed in Canada on May 25, 1950. I feel a pang of sadness piercing my heart and experience a strong desire to see my dad just once more. How fast did life fly by! I have to keep these passports for the children!
Also under D, I find a diploma – 60-some years old. I’m momentarily back in my high school in the Netherlands, the principal handing the diploma to me along with my marks. I have to show this to my grandchildren. Maybe they will be proud of their grandmother!
I also find an important letter that welcomes my husband and me as Canadian citizens. That’s an interesting document for our offspring! It, too, is for keeps. I’d better keep that whole document file intact.
The next folder is called “Excerpts.” From the front page of Reformed Witness, Rev. Joel Nederhood`s face smiles at me. Alongside is a 1994 piece that the reverend wrote entitled “Women, The Bible and the Church.” I’ll discard this one. Opinions have changed drastically in 20 years. Because this “Excerpts” file holds so many pieces that are worthwhile reading again, including stories by Dr. James Calvin Schaap, I also lay this whole folder on top of the “save pile” on the floor.
Much to my surprise, I find four old Life magazines. This is exciting! They are very large magazines, glossy and partly-coloured and priced at only 20 cents. In one of them, dated March 2, 1962, I find stories and pictures of the first trip into orbit by astronaut John Glenn. Another issue tells about the “Giant Leap of All Mankind,” the first trip to the moon in 1969, by astronaut Neil Armstrong. My grandchildren might be happy with these! I myself can hardly wait till tonight to read these stories again. Restraining myself, I put them aside.
When I see a headline on the cover of yet another Life magazine, April 1957, “The Six Best Easter Sermons,” I succumb. I just have to read these six short sermons in this secular magazine. Right now! I’m curious about their accounts of Christ’s resurrection. And when I do so, I’m so pleased to discover that each one of them contains the unadulterated gospel message! Even though these magazines are almost falling apart, surely I must preserve them!
But now I have to soldier on, or I will never get done. I’m surprised at how little I have dumped so far!
Here comes another most interesting folder: “Family.” This folder is full of events in the lives of our immediate family and relatives. Happy ones, but also many sad ones – death notices of family, mostly aunts and uncles, in the Netherlands. The latter are large white cards with a prominent black boarder as was the custom in Holland at that time. They remind me again, as did my dad’s passport, of the brevity of life.
These now add to the slightly blue mood that I have been in since I started doing this job. They are keepsakes, for sure. I know that these family mementos will be items of interest to my children at some time in their lives.
However, this file gets me stuck –
I need a break! And I want to re-live those family events right now. I make myself a cup of tea and exchange my stool for a chair. I want to read every one of those obituaries again and spend a few moments with the memory of each aunt and each uncle. I feel I owe it to them.
While I sip my tea, I think about how many pleasures there still are in my “old age.” My enjoyments do not include big vacations or much travel any more, but there are plenty of small pleasures that are just as gratifying, like reading a good book, writing a story or a letter, listening to music or watching flowers bloom . . . and definitely the pleasure of cleaning out my old filing cabinet.
Today I only got as far as the letter “F,” but I’m looking forward to tackling the remainder tomorrow.
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