One day, while reading the Book of Mormon, I realized that I had found a kindred spirit. Verse 9 of the Book of Omni comprises the entirety of the records kept by Chemish:
Now I, Chemish, write what few things I write, in the same book with my brother; for behold, I saw the last which he wrote, that he wrote it with his own hand; and he wrote it in the day that he delivered them unto me. And after this manner we keep the records, for it is according to the commandments of our fathers. And I make an end.
In this verse, Chemish first reveals that his brother had been slacking on his duty, and then comments that this slapdash way of writing on the plates is “how they kept the records”. It’s amazing that in the relatively short historical space of about three hundred years, the Nephites had gone from Nephi’s inspired creation of the small plates as a record of their most sacred things, to Chemish’s grudging fulfillment of what he saw as an annoying familial duty. The form of their responsibility has been kept, but the substance and meaning have been completely lost.
I feel a connection to Chemish and the other writers chronicled in Omni because I have also been a lazy record keeper for most of my life. My journal keeping has been sporadic and without intention, and too often I ignore the urge to write my thoughts down. I still have a journal that I kept for several years between the ages of 9 and 12. This journal is one of the best ones I have, because I was writing without any awareness of my audience or sense of what should be talked about or not. I also included rather terrible drawings of many things, such as a detailed diagram of the large scab that formed on my knee after I was knocked down on the playground. Other highlights include the twenty exclamation points accompanying the news that I had received my first bra, and a pathos-filled drawing about the time our new school clothes were restocked because of some mix-up with layaway at K-Mart. Although I’m embarrassed by much of it now, that journal is actually a quite nice little record of my life at the time.
Through high school and much of college, I was a duty-bound journal writer very much like Chemish. I wrote frequently, but I was mostly driven by the guilt engendered by numerous lessons at church about the importance of journal keeping. My entries were short and fairly boring–they mostly chronicle what happened in each class that day, what I had been baking, and which television shows or movies I watched. I was inexperienced emotionally and had difficulty identifying and understanding my feelings, and even more difficulty writing about them (or even understanding that I should). As a missionary, I began with strong journal-writing habits that eventually tapered off too much. Not keeping a better journal during that time is one of my big regrets in life.
After I returned to college, I became more interested in creative writing and discovered personal essays and memoirs. A few years later I started a blog in an attempt to both improve my creative writing skills and keep a better record of my life. Like many people I know, my blogging efforts have lost steam in the face of social media distraction, but every now and then I manage to write something down. Right now, the record of my life is scattered across a paper calendar, emails, texts, posts on Instagram and Facebook, occasional blog posts, photos, and the one-line-a-day journal I’ve been sporadically writing in for the last four years.
Now we are in the middle of another historical moment and I keep feeling prompted to write down more substantial things. I don’t want to be like Chemish’s son Abinadom, who noted that the official record kept by the kings would be sufficient and that all the major prophecies had been written down (spoiler alert: the official record got lost). Even if others were chronicling the kingly history of the Nephites, I wonder how Chemish and Abinadom felt about the events of the day. What did their wives and other family members think? Did they even have wives? During the great upheavals and wars with the Lamanites, did the Nephites have some sort of equivalent to the toilet-paper hoarding we have going on right now? Were there Nephite memes?
On a more serious note, my Book of Mormon reading this week reminded me of the importance of keeping good records, of both the life-altering and mundane events of our lives. Sometimes it is hard to tell those two things apart, and sometimes they occur at the same time. There’s no way to know until we write them down and look back at them later.