I spent a wonderful evening with the ladies of two congregations last evening, presenting a program about the importance of keeping a journal and other personal records. The invitation was a perfect extension off the research I do as a historical author because most of my primary sources are the personal writings of people in the past. My favorites are letters, and among the many available for public viewing, I have some very personal favorites--those of Jefferson and Dolley Madison.
There are some amazing journals, kept meticulously in previous centuries, which provide a true glimpse, not only of another life, another family, but of a complete era, and they are critical historical references.
I shared some letters exchanged between Dolley and James Madison during the nights preceding and following the British attack on Washington. Attitudes towards President Madison ran from disaffected to rabid, even amongst some of his former friends. One such friend, named John Mason, wrote a letter describing Madison's abandonment of his wife, making no plans for her and showing no concern for her as he fled to save his own skin. Then we read James Madison's letters to Dolley during that period, pleading with her to pack and be read to flee. Next we read Dolley's replies to James, and notes she penned to her sister as the British began their march into the capital. It told of a woman receiving regular, panicked notes from her husband, written in pencil from the perimeter of the battlefield, as she drew the fury of the many men James sent to rescue her and ferry her away. Why was her retreat so late and endangered? Because she wrote that she would not leave the President's house until she knew James was safe, nor until the treasures of the nation were secured and packed in a wagon.
Imagine how differently the memory of James and Dolley would have been recorded if the only surviving source had been the embittered perspective of Madison's friend, John Mason.
Likewise, we must write our own story, setting the record straight. If not, the tale and lessons of our lives will be interpreted by those who follow, forced to draw their conclusions based on what few random memories they can recall. And our lives are important. Even the seemingly mundane routines of our lives describe our era, and will be fascinating to our grand daughters as they set up households and care for families in the future.
The best part of journal writing is that in recollecting our day, we often can see the intervention of God in the minutia of our lives--a tender mercy here, a moment of sweet peace there. Gratitude and peace are the result of recognizing that despite our struggles, we are not alone.
President Henry B. Eyring offers us this thoughtful question he pondered each night as he began his daily entry:
“’Have I seen the hand of God reaching out to touch us or our children or our family today?” As I would cast my mind over the day, I would see evidence of what God had done for one of us that I had not recognized in the busy moments of the day.”
(Henry B. Eyring,"O Remember, Remember," , (Ensign, October 7, 2007)
The more we look for these tender mercies, the more we will see, and our journal will not only bless those who follow us, but it will bless us each evening. And in our hour of sorrow, in our time of reflection, we will be able to return to these pages and remember, remember.