MAXWELL: Stuff your troubles into the shredder

1/6/2008 – Printed in the PERSPECTIVE section of The St Petersburg Times Newspaper

I was about to make one of my tepid New Year’s resolutions, which I rarely keep, when I read an article in the Christian Science Monitor about a first-annual event in New York called “Good Riddance Day,” organized by the Times Square Alliance.
Instead of making resolutions, people bring objects they want to get rid of to an industrial strength shredder in the middle of Times Square. The objects are tossed into the shredder.
The unwanted things are history, sweet purgation.
As the article reports, one woman shreds her copy of the playbill for the musical Passing Strange. The playbill personified an unhealthy, failed romantic relationship. She said she was looking for positive relationships.
A CPA destroyed a copy of failed test scores, and another man pulverized an X-ray of his appendix, which had been removed.
I liked the idea of destroying an object to bring in the New Year so much that I told several friends about it. I asked them if they had a burdensome or unlucky object they would destroy, which would give them a new lease on at least part of their lives. I told them I would call back after New Year’s Day to confirm that they’d kept their word.
One of my roommates at the University of Chicago said he’d shred a 36-year-old copy of a ticket to a Playboy Club party. He and the beauty he’d planned to marry were to attend the party. She stood him up. After hearing her “lame excuse,” he never spoke her again. He kept the ticket, he said, “to remind myself of the biggest mistake in my stupid, young life.”
A former colleague from the University of Illinois-Chicago said she’d destroy her undergraduate degree from a historically black college in Georgia. “I was one of the darkest women on campus,” she said. “It was a campus for little rich redbones. Dark-skinned sisters were messed over. Every time I look at that degree, I get mad all over again. I really need to trash it.”
A friend in Fort Lauderdale, a retired accountant, will burn her first husband’s death certificate. Although the husband died in 1989, and she remarried in 1991, she has kept the document in a folder in a file cabinet.
“Hank died at home alone,” she said. “I was off on a business trip in Houston. I should’ve stayed home with him. I knew he was sick and everything, but I thought he had a few more years. I should’ve stayed home with him. I look at that certificate all the time. It’s not good for me and my new marriage.”
My study-group buddy from my undergraduate days at Wiley College swears that he’s going to torch a laminated photograph of a girlfriend who left him for a star football player.
“Man, I loved her so much,” he said from his home in Dallas. “She was the prettiest girl I ever met – and a brain. She helped me pass Dr. Daniels’ English lit course. She knew Chaucer and Shakespeare like the back of her hand. At least it seemed like it to me. She had my nose wide open.”
The saddest response came from a longtime friend in Tampa. She is burning all photographs of her grandfather posing with her immediate family. When she was 4 or 5 years old, her grandfather came to live with her and her parents and siblings. One day when the two were alone, the old man sexually molested her.
“I’m just sick about what happened,” she said. “It’s been following me all my life and has messed up all kinds of things.”
Another friend asked if I were going to destroy an object. Yes, I said, my 1992 divorce document. I had kept it because it marked the low point in my life, my biggest failure ever.
“I guess I kept it to punish myself,” I said.
But the time had come to destroy it – to get rid of that part of my past.