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On Saving Old Letters from Lovers Past

Feb 3, 2014   //   by Ben Hollis   //   Ben's Blog  //  7 Comments



More than 30 years and two weeks ago my mailbox began to fill up uncharacteristically.  They were Valentines.  They started coming about 4 or 5 days before The Big Day, and in increasing numbers.  On February 14 there must have been 20 cards in the box.  All told, maybe 50 over the course of the week.  All from the same person.

I was madly in love at the time and those cards transported me into the stratosphere beyond Cloud 9, light years past “over the moon.” It was a crazy onslaught of written affection and it made me crave more.  In those days I liked walking on air and being zonked on love.  And I wanted it to last.  Amazing.

Today, I don’t even know if I still have those cards.  I did keep them for a long time, though.  Years.  But much has happened since that February 14 in the early ’80s.  The sender and I parted ways.  I got remarried.  I changed a lot of things for the better, quit drinking, quit a lot of stuff.  I even quit hair.  I got bald.

But why did I keep them?  In fact, why did I feel the need to save all her letters?  And not just hers, but everyone’s I’d ever received since I went off to college?

I got the answer a couple of years ago while attending a showcase of a couple of motivational speakers.  One of them was Brooks Palmer, author of Clutter Busting.  About one minute into his talk he nailed me.  “So why do we clutter our lives?  Why do we hold onto stuff?  Here’s what I’ve found: Clutter is the physical manifestation of an unhealthy attachment to the past.”  My body began to quake and tears pooled in my eyes.  I knew exactly what was happening.  It’s an involuntary response I get when I hear a chunk of truth about myself that I haven’t faced fully.

Bottom line: those cards represented proof that I was lovable.  Same for all the letters.  And all the other stuff in my office including hundreds of videotapes, books and papers.  They were the physical evidence that I had friends, lovers and fans.  That I mattered.  That I did good work.  That I was an extraordinarily interesting person.

So what’s so “unhealthy” about that?  For me it was clear.  My hanging on to that old stuff was a subtle way of saying, “Screw you, Present Day.  What you have to offer me is just not as satisfying as the good old days.  Never mind that I have a wonderful life now, that I am blessed with excellent health and caring people, a terrific wife, dynamic children who are blossoming so beautifully, and an ever-deepening appreciation for the great mysteries and joys of living.  No thank you, Here and Now.  I still need to rely on yellowing paper and VHS videotapes to insure that I’m okay.”

The good news is that I feel less dependent on those Valentines and letters and tapes today.  It’s as if the past is loosening it’s grip on me.  And I am letting go of my grip on it.  The clutter has been paralyzing me slowly but surely.  And it’s getting in the way of the authentic unfolding of who I am meant to be now, in this present moment.  I’m actually excited to get rid of this stuff.  Some I’m sure I’ll keep, but it won’t have that strong energy of attachment tied to it as it used to.  I’m getting free.

Wednesday Lyn, my Feng Shui consultant, comes over to help me continue to clear away unnecessary stuff and make more room for spirit to move in and do its thing.  It’s a Valentine to myself.


  • This is so true. I didn’t realize this was the reason I’ve been hanging on to mementos of past relationships. Out they go!

  • So true, thanks for sharing this, and what a great idea for a Valentine to yourself!

  • Wow. Ya got me. Not only is this my truth as well, it made me realize how much I miss and appreciate your voice. Nicely done!

  • Several years ago I went through a box of old cards and letters. I made a pile of those to keep and those to toss. Acting on a suggestion from Mary Schmich’s column in the Chicago Tribune, I said a prayer of gratitude for everyone who had sent me the letters I was about to release. The simple ritual helped me to let ’em go.

  • Wow, Ben, you’re a writer at heart, aren’t you! So beautifully said.

  • I disagree. Letters are the footprint of where you have been and a point of once where your growth is pinpointed. Later letters show progression! Why books? Why history? Why the Bible of Gods words of past relationships with prophets and criminals? Because life is a journey and we are growing through interaction, responses to troubles and sometimes poor choices! I have my letters from friends and relatives , but the one I loved the most thought like you and he said he destroyed the letters which were addressed to me! My property was destroyed! that is hurtful and I think he and people who want to destroy the memories of their past are in a mental breakdown mode of denial!

    Once again how would we know about Thomas Jefferson or George Washington ‘ s personal life without their letters? Are you on the verge?

  • I left a comment negating your point in “Saving old letters”. How come you are not open enough to post a deserting opinion? It shows a small mind!

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