I’ve been doing a lot of shredding lately. I’m cleaning out some of my storage boxes. I don’t want to leave all this “stuff” for someone else to have to deal with once I’m gone.
Most of my boxes are related to my years as a writer. I sold my first article on September 4, 1974. A writer remembers particulars like that. Other boxes are related to my retreat work and to those many talks I’ve given over the past four decades. I already pitched most of my teaching materials. One day (about 15 years ago) I realized I would never be teaching “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” or the history of the English language again. So swoosh! I threw out my notes.
1) acceptance letters for articles I’ve sold.
2) rejection letters for articles I didn’t sell. (I used to have hundreds of them. Early in my writing career I would post my rejection letters all over my office. They were of varying sizes, shapes, and colors. When a visitor would ask what they were, I’d say, “Rejection letters.” Then I’d add, “Notice how diverse they are. Yet, they all say the same thing: NO!” (I always remembered that Dr. Suess’s first book was rejected by 26 editors before the 27th one bought it.)
3) correspondence with editors (over the years I’ve had many wonderful, talented, and helpful editors.)
4) duplicate copies of my unpublished poems, short stories, and articles
The shredder we have here in our convent is a small one. I knew the volume of materials I was going to shred would demand a heavy-duty shredder. Fortunately, we have such a shredder at our provincial center. It shreds about 10-12 sheets at a time. The manual claims it can shred even staples, paper clips, and credit cards—though I’ve never tested that claim.
The shredder sits in a small windowless room in the basement. The only other things in the room are a two-drawer file cabinet (where the large plastic garbage bags are kept) and two small chairs to put your stuff on while you stand and shred. When you turn the shredder on, it makes a loud noise—like a hungry dinosaur. When you begin feeding the paper into its jaws, the noise gets even louder as it devours your pages and then spits them into the attached garbage bag. Here are a few of my thoughts while shredding…
1) Shredding is a violent act. Shredding entails a deafening racket and a brutal ferocity. The shredded paper is indecipherable. The pages are virtually gone. Of course, I’ve seen police dramas where forensic detectives glue the shredded paper back together and solve the crime. But my shreds are destined for a recycling center.
2) Shredding is a painful act. It’s not easy to shred certain materials. As I feed the machine, I glance at the pages and find myself saying, “This is my life! These pages represent years of my work and ministry. And in one instant, they’re all gone! Wow!” At times I feel as if I am being shredded. So painful is shredding, I often won’t even look at the papers I’m feeding into the machine so I can’t see what I’m shredding.
4) Shredding is a freeing act. Ironically, shredding also gives me a sense of exhilaration. Shredding is a profound act of letting go. When I shred, I find myself saying, “I don’t need this stuff anymore. That part of my life is over.” I find this extremely freeing.
5) And finally, shredding is a grateful act. As I shred, I find myself thanking God for my life that these pages represent. “Thank you God, for my editors… for my readers… for my students… for the gifts of writing and speaking… for your consistent inspiration… for my little successes… for my disappointments and failures which (I hope) have made me more humble and compassionate and trusting of You… Thank you, God, for my whole life which has led me to where I am now and who I am today. Amen.”
Have you ever used a shredder? If so, do you have any thoughts about shredding?
Have you ever had an experience where you felt God was asking you to let go? (perhaps you were downsizing… or cleaning out a deceased loved one’s belongings… or clinging to a relationship… or hanging on to the past.) What was that experience like for you? How did you feel? How long did the letting go take? What helped you to let go?
PS: I ask your prayers for two presentations. On Monday Nov. 5 I will be talking on Mary for the RCIA group at our parish, St. Mary Chardon. Then on Friday Nov. 9 I’ll be leading a retreat day for the pastoral staff of St. Noel Parish in Willoughby Hills, OH. Thank you for your prayers.
Our song today is called “Let Go,” and it’s by Matt Hammit. I think it captures well some of our fears about letting go.
Now it’s your turn! I invite you to respond to the reflection, the questions, or the song. My readers always tell me how much they look forward to reading your responses!