Wearing My Heart in My Sleeves


I spent yesterday throwing away my life, or at least that is how it felt in the morning.

By afternoon, after a bracing midday exercise class, I started to marvel that I had had enough time in my life to have known much of what was in the many, many articles, workshops and notes from my working and learning lives that I was busily throwing away. All my undergraduate notes and my notes from work as a solicitor had been tossed in moving clean ups prior to the eighties, but in the last thirty years I seem to have thrown out very little. I was very pleasantly surprised, as I scanned documents prior to binning, how much of each I actually remembered!

And most of it was still quite interesting. I tried to severely limit my rereading. I do not have a shredder but I pretended to myself that each article had to be scanned so any possible identifying names and information could be hand shredded with great vigour. That added less physical work to the job than did the scrubbing of shelves as each was finally exposed.

Why now? These have sat in my “shed” in neat folders on bookshelves for almost ten years, since I retired from work. And the theses and lecture notes had had been there for even longer. I am sure all the psychological tests for children were well and truly out of date! Perhaps, I mused, it was because I had just heard of the death of an old friend. We had “flatted” together after University College and I had been a bridesmaid at her wedding 52 years ago. But surely not, very sad as that was, this was something I had planned to do for some time. Was it because I had seen my daughter in law struggling both emotionally and physically with the history her late father had left behind when he died last month? I have a lot of memorabilia that will cause my children more angst than just tossing out reams of printed articles about child psychology and legal issues!

I know not why. But now I do know “what”.

A huge part of what I threw out was years of research about violence within families. Many learned people have been discussing this for eons. I reread articles relating exactly to what we are still discussing now as if for the first time. I saw again some of the workshops with which I was involved since the 90s, trying to help victims, trying to work with perpetrators, knowing what damage was being done to children. Every time this serious problem is in the public eye there seems to be a reinvention of the wheel, a demand for simple legal solutions rather than getting on with the building of working tools for what we already know about for the development of human beings.

Similarly articles about the possible future problems with IVF and with anonymous donors. We were talking about this, based on our knowledge of adoption issues, more than thirty years ago! What a non surprise it has emerged.

And other of the old issues in these folders are again in the news as if never discussed before.

Now, almost finished, I have filled two recycle bins and added much to the ordinary garbage. But I still have quite a lot I cannot yet throw. My two Masters theses I have retained. A few wonderful articles, such as a great send up of research called “The Etiology of Childhood”. I was going to allow myself to keep only enough to fill just one plastic box that my descendants can toss. Perhaps it may turn into two.

But what I find that I cannot throw are those wonderful – probably fast fading in terms of our future needs for paper copies of anything – plastic sleeves for folders. I have saved all of them that remain in condition fit to continue.

My working life was spent in a number of different forms of conflict resolution – now merely represented by many intact now empty and some torn now empty plastic sleeves and much knowledge of sadness. Do these  sleeves say nothing of that life’s remains except they are empty memories? Or do they beckon me to move into the future and refill them? With “the cloud” available I do not think they will be needed any more than their contents were.

Perhaps they represent the emptiness of declining years? Not loneliness, not lack of ways to provide some assistance, but emptiness of united purposes, the feeling one can get, in middle age particularly, that perhaps each person can make a difference. (But I finally know this is actually illusory as proved by my illustrations of our attempts to solve, or at least stem, family violence and other problems for children.)

Most of all, perhaps, they represent the human condition? The torn ones show the frailty of our human condition. The intact ones are resilient but yet still empty. Their difference was probably, in the main, caused by the load the frail ones carried.  They, however, do not judge one another.  When, oh when, will we just learn to follow a simple truth that does not need to be researched – be nicer to one another?  Then no one will need to be used and damaged or even empty, like these sleeves, the frail now gone for eternity.


About Anne Powles

I am retired from paid employment. During my working life I have been variously and sometimes contemporaneously, wife, mother of four, lawyer, teacher and psychologist. I have also been a serial education junkie. As are we all, I have been an observer of the world around me. Here I have recorded some of my memories, observations and theorisings.
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