‘Treasures’ Stoke Fire, Night to Remember

I did it – I burned my “treasures.”

Expired driver’s licenses…gone.

Newspaper articles with my byline…gone.

My high school diploma…gone.

Sitting around a fire pit – under a blanket of the brightest Texas stars that I can remember– I created one of the most profound memories of my life. It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime moments – filled with so much emotion, reflection and hope.

Reminder: I came up with this “Life Bonfire” to simply purge some of the personal “crap” that I felt compelled to hold on to all these years.

I NEVER dreamt it would turn into such an amazing journey. It was so extraordinary, I almost don’t know where to start.

How about the beginning? Makes sense, right?

Last Friday, I loaded up a box of my keepsakes and headed out to my parents’ house. They live in the country, and I thought it would be the perfect backdrop for this personal exploration. I also invited a couple close friends to be part of the adventure.

After dinner, and the kids were tucked into bed, we poured some adult beverages, put on some Texas Country Music and lit the fire. It was not an A&M-inspired inferno, just an above-average campfire. (“Bonfire” was definitely a stretch.) I lit a cigar and started to stoke the blaze with my memories.

– – –

If I had to describe how I felt before my “Life Bonfire,” I would say anxiety outweighed all the other emotions.

If I had to describe my emotions as I started to toss things into the flames: Reflective and alive.

If I had to describe my state of mind afterwards: At peace and inspired. (Not to mention intoxicated – the Jameson really helped me battle the sentimental hoarder who lives inside me.)

The best part of the evening was the conversations sparked by the fire (pun intended). The wonderfully great part was the fact that the dialogue was NOT all about me and my “crap.” I’d throw something in the fire, and someone would share about a particular moment in his or her life, tell a story about a similar keepsake or simply offer a judicious nugget for the group to chew on.

It wasn’t forced or scripted conversation – just insightful and fun. There were a lot of laughs – and not a single tear. More often than not, someone would share something profound and we’d just tuck our lips, nod our heads, and expel a barely audible, “Hmmm.”

I wanted to share some of the commentary, because it definitely does the best job of capturing the essence of the evening:

• We gave our opinion on why we thought people hold on to these “treasures.” TK offered the most weighty perspective: “I just think a lot of people are scared they’re going to be forgotten.” WOW!

• We also decided that our “crap” simply helps us remember – it’s a trigger mechanism. Maybe it doesn’t enhance a memory, but it does remind you to stop and reflect. 

• Our friends, who live in Bastrop, brought a unique perspective to the conversation. Last summer, their community – which is located just east of Austin – was devastated by some of the worst wildfires in the history of the state. More than 1,600 families lost everything in the fires – and here I was, actually burning my stuff on purpose.

It made me feel a little guilty, but it reminded me of something I wrote in my initial post: “I want to take the inevitable into my own hands…” More than anything, it made me sad for those families. They didn’t get the opportunity to “say goodbye” to their “treasures.” I feel fortunate that I did.

• You have no idea how much I appreciated the comments I received following my initial post. They were so enlightening and thought-provoking. We discussed these comments at length around the fire. It was neat to get everyone’s thoughts and opinions, but it was even more interesting to discuss them as my mementos turned to ashes in front of us. (If you haven’t already read these comments, I encourage you to scan them. If you shared a comment…thank you!)

• We all agreed that there is a fine line between being a sentimental hoarder (keeping anything and everything) and being flippant and/or reckless (“BURN IT ALL!”)

That’s a great bridge to this necessary point of clarification: I did NOT burn everything. (I’m sorry if I gave ANY indication that I was jumping off the deep end and torching every keepsake in my possession.) Before I loaded up my box and took it out to the country, I scanned through all my “junk” and made a judgment call.

Here’s an example of three things that were NEVER considered for the burn pile:

Book of poems and short stories
from my high school creative writing class

High school letters & patches
(why they were never put on a jacket is beyond me)

The board game I created when I asked TK to marry me

I received some great advice about handling similar “treasures” in the future: Use one box and only keep the best of the best. If your box gets full, don’t start another box – decide if that keepsake is more important/sentimental than a particular item already in the box and replace it if it is. LOVE IT! (Thanks, Nina)

The items pictured above will definitely be the first things in my new “treasure chest.”

There were also three items that snuck into the burn pile and were rescued at the last minute. For some reason, I unfolded each one of these keepsakes right before I tossed them into the fire. After reading them, I decided I couldn’t let them go:

• A note from my mom. It simply said:

“Dad said this morning that the day you were born goes down as one of the best days of his life…mine too. ILY, Mom.”

– – –

• A letter I wrote to my extended family about the love between my grandparents (I wrote it from the perspective of my grandfather):

Excerpt: “Not everyone can understand exactly what it’s like when my wife, my soul-mate, my best friend takes hold of my hand…”

– – –

• A poem about my high school friends (I promise I wasn’t a HUGE dork growing up):

Excerpt: “A friend will be beside you and do whatever he can…To put a smile on your face and warmth in your heart….A friend does not care if you belch or you fart.”

These three “treasures” exemplified love and gratitude to me – two things I’m convinced have the power to change the world. I wanted to save these mementos to help drive home that point to my son.

They will also find a new home in my “treasure chest.”

– – –

The last thing I burned on Friday night was my infamous high school diploma.

I was really OK with it – and I wasn’t 100 percent sure that I would be. I think it was because of the strong opinions I received either way about putting it in the fire.

Confession: The expired driver’s licenses were harder for me to let go of. I’m not sure if it was because of the photos, the uniqueness of each one OR the fact every single person sitting around the fire said: “I still have one my grandparents’ licenses.”

It forced me to quickly ask myself these questions again: Should I hold on to this and share it with Crash when he’s older? Will he care?

Then I smiled and tossed each ID into the fire – one at a time.

As each one melted in front of me, I smiled even more and made a personal vow to myself:

“I will leave plenty of ‘treasures’ for my kids to cherish, but they will be a lot more impactful than a laminated piece of paper with an awkward, deer-in-the-headlights photo on it.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of three blog posts revolving around my “Life Bonfire.” For my next post, I’ve asked TK and my friends to share their written perspective from the experience.

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2 Comments on “‘Treasures’ Stoke Fire, Night to Remember”

  1. Ed Purcell
    April 30, 2012 at 5:07 am #

    To each his own ! My Tresures help me to do more ! Your letter jacket should have been on jacket when you got it ! The dist champ you buy extra and have it put on !larry that took my place on the school board sold them !I have all of Patrick’s medals he was awarded in the War about 20 fram Marines and Navy ! The Air medal from the president ! Flying 3000 hours 39 combat missions in current war ! Blessed he came home !Retired navy next year 20 years !now full time pilot for SWAir in Dallas ! Lives at joe pool lake !He gets mad when I as a proud pop tells he is war hero ! Your dad was a officer in the Army ! I spent 3 years on active duty in Duncanville air defense command. I built war memorial in 1969 to honor our War dead 25 youn heros gaves their lives so we could be free !n20 years later Patrick But be landscape on the War memorial for his Eagle award ! So things like that help me do more ! your mom and dad her school board president RN many good works for people dad to many awards the best is starting the Sr citizen center for sr citizens to have a place to live ! Just your writing about your history Judge Fite ! Is a book Life experiences Good and bad It is called life and 25 men made it possible for us to be all we can be in life ! ! ! !

  2. Ed Purcell
    April 30, 2012 at 5:10 am #

    You are a trained writer yousing it very well , Keep up the good work !

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