And Poof!….It’s Gone

On February 22 of this year the email program on my desk top simply went on strike… or retired … or died. It refused to send or receive, or to let me into the dozens of folders where I store emails – both personal and professional. I receive about 75 emails a day and the frightening thing is that usually 30-40 of them are relevant and need to be read and/or responded to. I also daily dig into the folders to remind myself of recent correspondence with a client, to retrieve an attachment I need, or to enjoy a memorable message from a grandson. I was eager to get the problem fixed. My always cheerful computer guy came in a few days and installed himself in my desk chair. He emerged an hour later.

Kind of what I imagined was happening

“Is it fixed?” I am eager to settle in and catch up.

He hesitates, “No, not yet.” He is packing up to go. “I need to think about it.”

“Oh? Think about it?” I have never considered computer repair to be in the “thoughtful” fields, like philosophy. But what do I know? Clearly nothing.

“Yeah, just need to think about it.” He flashes a big smile and leaves.

In a week or so he was back. “Did you think about it?” I asked hopefully.

“Uh-huh,” and he smiled another big one.

He took his place in front of the thought-provoking machine. I explained that actually the biggest problem was that I needed to be able to access those old folders. “That’s what I really care about. I can always install another email program to send and receive,” and I left him.

An hour later he appeared, bigger smile than usual. “It’s fixed! You can send and receive.” I rushed in to test it out. Indeed I could send and receive an email, but…. all the folders that used to occupy the left side of the screen, where I squirreled emails for archiving, nostalgia and future reference were gone. Gone. I couldn’t believe it.

“Where are my folders??”

I don’t remember his exact words. But the reality was that yes, now I could send and receive, and yes, the folders were all gone, and no, they did not exist in the cloud or on the hard drive or in the little saving gizmo attached to the computer that updates and saves continuously what is in the computer. They were gone. Forever. My email house had burned down. There was no bringing it back.

For the next several days I stood in the smoldering ruins of my email life, kicking at bits of debris, grasping for glimpses of what used to be. I realized I had lost my history of mentoring dozens of eager, young people, decades of names, inquiries, exchanges, conversations about how to handle a challenge, how to enter the field, how to keep from burning out. I sent my love to each one, now nameless, and wished them well. I mourned the loss of the folder chronicling a four-year-long mediation to re-write the tribal consultation policy for the Department of the Interior, one of my most satisfying jobs. A few names and faces floated past, a flash of the draft documents we worked on. But, I reassured myself, the end product, the policy itself is lodged in the policies and practices within the department. Then there were the precious emails with my grandsons. Those were the ones that made my heart warm just at the sight of the sender’s name.  I ached to see them again, a history of very special relationships. Why hadn’t I printed them? I could have them on good old reliable paper (which of course would have burned in an actual fire).

Now, a few months later, I wonder what I would have done with all those folders of tens of thousands of emails. I was hoarding them for the future, but why? Sure a few of them were useful to retrieve a date, a document, an exchange related to work. The personal ones I imagined going through when I got old, really old, and reliving great (and not so great) moments in cherished and challenging relationships. I admitted that in some cases I was saving emails as some kind of evidence that I was right, that I had been wronged in a certain situation. I was leaving a trail for any sleuth that would come after me wanting to get to the “truth” of the matter. How ridiculous is that? Is that the legacy I want to leave behind? And, of course, the reality is that anyone opening up that email program and seeing tens of thousands of emails stored in folders would hit the delete button asap and “burn down the house” anyway.

I’m not quite at the point of thanking the smiley computer guy, but I am beginning to see a lesson here about liberation. Rather than clutching at this completely unmanageable mass of words, isn’t it better to just honor whatever fragments, snippets, moments, highs and lows that come to the surface of my crowded memory? I realized I have a perfectly good filtering and filing system in place. My mind and heart are storing as best they can what really matters. And the good news is that storage facility will last my whole life.

10 thoughts on “And Poof!….It’s Gone”

  1. Ah, Lucy…your planets and mine must be aligned. I recently received a message from my email host saying that unless I wanted to “upgrade”…meaning give them more money…or delete a bunch of emails, I would no longer have access to my email program in order to send and receive. Ack! I’ve been trying to delete enough unimportant messages every morning since that message arrived, just enough to keep below the invisible line
    between YOU’VE GOT MAIL and YOU CAN NO LONGER ACCESS YOUR ACCOUNT. Finally yesterday I sat down and open the program to its inception date in July of 2015, some 45,000 emails ago (not counting the ones I’ve already deleted.) I read through a few of the messages…some professional, some personal…some I would be happy to delete, some I would miss, some I couldn’t even remember writing or receiving, some I felt my heart would break if I didn’t save them forever.
    In the end I reached the same conclusion that you did. The hard drive in my brain is a more reliable storage unit for what’s truly important. I hit SELECT and then I hit DELETE. It was pretty liberating.

    1. Wow! I’m mighty impressed… and inspired, Judi. Good for you. Of course, I recreated all the folders and they are slowly filling up again. I will remember your courage when I need it in the future.

  2. Lucy, you are the soul of equanimity! Of course being a re-purposed stuff artist, I acquire and hoard all kinds of things – just not ones and zeros ; /

  3. Beautifully shared and such a great reminder for each of us to remain in the present and appreciate, cherish and of course learn from past experiences. Hugs to you and Roberto! Love, Ray

    1. So great to hear from you, Ray. Thanks for writing and affirming my message, which I came to slowly, and kicking and screaming. Hope you and Dennis are well and in NM enjoying the rain. We are recovering from Covid, moving along the path so many have been on. Almost back to normal after a couple of weeks. love to you both, Lucy

  4. I had a similar crash a couple of years ago, Lucy, and lost all my emails. A computer guy was able to find a lot of them on my external hard drive/ But I lost a lot, including my correspondence with my brother-in-law, who had died. The recovered folders were all jumbled up, which too some doing to reorganize. Oof!
    I find that in my old age (I’m there), there is increasing value in living in the present, being in the present. I have very little future left, so planning is not so important—planning what to do, to create, produce. Been there, done that, to repeat a cliche. As to the past, it’s a long rich story to reflect on, retell internally (or to others if they’re interested). So many of my dear old friends are absent now that remembering is both a warm enriching experience and a sorrowful one. I realize poignantly why humans are so tempted to believe they will go to heaven and see their deceased family members and friends again.
    But back to your lost correspondences, maybe take your external hard drive to someone else to give recovery a try.
    Miss you and Roberto!

    1. Such wise words, David. I’ve often thought of myself on a conveyor belt of life, moving along, never sure when I will drop off into the void, but aware as the years go by that the distance in front is less than the distance behind… less every day. I very much take to heart your advice about living in the present — it has become a trite saying, but you made it fresh for me. In fact, I am truly letting go of the emails. Something may be retrievable on the external hard drive, but that would just require me to make a plan and then deal with whatever was retrieved. I’m content letting it all be, wherever that is, and moving forward unencumbered. Love to you and Ruth.

  5. It was a lesson in “unattachment “. Letting go. Less harsh than really haveing your house burned down or flooded or blown away. What really matters is now, family and friends, just being present and a positive attitude and of course lots of love.

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