January 19, 2024

Twenty Something / Christina Capecchi

Saluting the chroniclers: put 2024 on paper

Christina CapecchiHe began at the beginning: “Left St. Paul [on] Jan. 23rd ‘98 at 4:30 p.m.”

In a leather-bound journal, his neat cursive scrolled in pencil across graph paper, Frank Storms charted his epic pursuit: to strike gold in Alaska.

He arrived in 1898, in the middle of a stampede—some 100,000 prospectors who made up the Klondike Gold Rush. The Minnesota man was convinced he had what it took, attaching a newspaper clipping that quoted “the millionaire miner” Dr. F.T. King: “No one should go to Alaska in the hope of finding gold unless he is possessed of a good physique, indomitable will and tenacity and a willingness to work long and hard and at anything that presents itself.”

Frank chronicled his travels in detail, providing summaries and lists. He noted all his supplies. He documented his Christmas menu: oyster soup, fish, roast, Alaska baked beans, creamed potatoes and mince pie, then a pipe with two friends. And he illustrated his odyssey, sketching tributaries of the Yukon River and “Old Sam’s Cabin,” where he stayed.

Frank didn’t find gold, returning home due to a broken hip. But he did leave his family a treasure: his journal.

More than a century later, we pore over his pages, awed by his daring and his diligence—the latter, necessary for us to learn of the former.

Every Christmas Eve, we pause from our festivities to salute Great Grandpa Frank and the Knights of Pythias, the fraternal organization under which he traveled.

His story lives on.

I’ve been thinking about journaling, which is both a lost art and a spiritual exercise. Last May, in a fit of end-of-school-year sentimentality, I resolved to begin a simple family journal. I was pained by how quickly it all goes. Journaling felt like the surest way to slow time, to keep all the days from blurring together. They are too sacred to blur.

This was the underlying belief, a sense of urgency and sanctity stirring deep within.

I’d purchased a leather journal and tried to replicate Frank’s pencil cursive. But what works for me is sitting down at my desktop computer and tapping a few quick sentences into a Google document. Sometimes right before bed. Sometimes in the window between turning on the stove and bringing water to a boil. Sometimes not at all. (That’s part of the deal—no pressure.)

I can think of no better way to launch a new year than to document it. Start with the simplest stuff: the date, the weather. Then keep it simple. What you did, what you ate, who you saw.

A journal requires neither analysis nor poetry. It is the recording itself that counts.

It strikes me as an inherently Catholic undertaking: to see each day as a profound gift, however ordinary; to recognize the dignity in each person and encounter; to possess an abiding gratitude, a heart of thanksgiving.

Every January, I recall a passage from the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke, as much prayer as poem: “And now let us believe in a long year that is given to us—new, untouched, full of things that have never been.”

It is a matter of faith: We believe in the year given to us by God. We marvel at its novelty, things that are not only new but “have never been.” It sounds so clean and hopeful, like a fresh blanket of snow.

That’s how God sees each new life conceived: a unique and unrepeatable soul, someone who has never been, who will change the course of human history. All the details of that life matter, so we give witness to each day, each gift—pencil to paper, fingers to keys.

“Here’s what happened,” we write.

And we mean, “Thank you.”
 

(Christina Capecchi is a freelance writer from Inver Grove Heights, Minn.)

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