Column: Shred yourself thin this year

by Father Mark Goldasich

“So, earning a little extra money on the side?”

That comment, made by a recent visitor to my office at The Leaven, puzzled me. Seeing the confused look on my face, he smiled and pointed at something on the table in front of me. I looked and understood.

One of the nice features of my office is a large table, which I use for many tasks, proof-reading being chief among them. The table lets me spread out all of the reference books I regularly consult — the dictionary, Bible, AP Style Guide, CNS Stylebook, etc. — as I check over each week’s Leaven pages. The table, however, is also a staging area where I read the mail, process bills, and skim through magazines and books.

My visitor’s attention that day was focused on something unusual on said table. The items are such a part of my daily routine that I don’t even notice them anymore. But their sitting prominently on a table in a newspaper office does invite curiosity.

The “items” are poker chips. I have a small plastic tray with 100 of them — blue, white, red, green and black — right in the middle of the table. My visitor wondered if folks from the church offices headed down to my office after hours for some high stakes card playing.

Let me reassure you right off the bat that no gambling problem intervention is needed. In fact, I don’t even enjoy playing cards.

So, what are those poker chips doing on the table? The answer is not very exciting: I use them as “counters.”

As often as necessary, I empty the plastic tray and stack the poker chips on the tabletop as I plow through the day’s mail or papers. Each piece of paper that I move on to its next destination, recycle or shred, means one poker chip goes back in the tray. When I reach 100 and fill up the tray (which takes much less time than you’d guess), I put a check mark on a whiteboard and start the process all over again.

For each check mark, I treat myself to a book or a magazine or a half hour of something relaxing. This system provides a double reward: Not only does it keep things flowing through my office — slowly, but surely, at times — but clearing out the old helps me to see and appreciate the new. It’s surprisingly uplifting to my spirit and mood.

Perhaps that’s what was behind a recent gathering in New York City. Dubbed “Good Riddance Day,” people were invited to come down to Times Square on Dec. 28 and bring items that caused them bad memories, stress or regrets. Set up there that day was an industrial-sized shredder, ready to consume all these hurtful items.

One man shredded his finally paid-off mortgage, a girl tossed in photos of an ex-boyfriend, another shredded a poor grade from a CPA exam, yet another tossed in a collage about a “mean and miserable” principal that she formerly worked for. For those who didn’t bring anything along, a local business provided stationery for them to write down their gripes, which were subsequently chewed up by the machine. For those with items that couldn’t safely be shredded, a sledgehammer was provided, and the offending “beaten” object was then tossed into a waiting garbage truck.

The general feelings of those in Times Square were reported to be liberation and relief.

I can attest to that. It’s awfully hard to begin a new year fresh, when our minds and lives are weighed down with past regrets, hurts and stressors.

Since New Year’s Day, I’ve been tackling those seemingly never diminishing piles that surround me. I’ve tossed magazines that I intended to read “sometime” into recycling bins. I cleared out files of “Web sites to visit” (that I’d never taken the time to actually do). I’ve reduced my “Wouldn’t it be nice to do these things?” list. I’ve plowed into e-mail folders to purge old jokes and catalog offers or purchases that expired long ago. I found a couple (dozen) less-than-even-mildly- flattering photos of myself that are now history. I even printed out a few hurtful (mostly anonymous) e-mails, just for the pleasure of hearing the shredder eat up those negative words.

So far, I’ve emptied and refilled my poker chip tray nine times . . . and I’m not done yet. Happily, though, the rewards are immediate: It’s already helped begin this new year on a pleasant, optimistic note.

If you’re looking for a fresh start in 2008, break out a shredder and send at least some sad memories and burdens out your door. Don’t let past regrets infect your heart, mind and soul and poison the new year that is unfolding.

Resolve to make ’08 truly great, a year to clear a huge space in your heart, which can then be filled to overflowing with gratitude for God’s blessings, renewed hope, and a sunnier, uncluttered disposition.

 

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