Time Capsules: Time Travel for Your Stories

This week, we’ve been reflecting on how we keep the past alive in our lives in different ways. Human cultures keep their history alive through different storytelling traditions. Individuals find private ways to keep alive the memory of lost loved ones. But what happens when our lives become the past? What might we leave behind for future generations to keep alive in the future?

We know we won’t live forever. We know that life will continue long after ours has ended. We talk about the legacies certain individuals leave behind in their life’s work, but that can feel like a tall order to those of us just trying to put one foot in front of the other. How about … a time capsule?

Photo by the Bostonian Society, featured at: http://www.bostonmagazine.com/news/blog/2014/10/15/contents-inside-old-state-house-time-capsule-revealed/#gallery-2-7

In January 2015, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts opened a time capsule originally placed underground in 1795, likely by Paul Revere and John Adams. Inside the capsule, they had preserved – among other items – five newspapers from that time, a collection of coins, and a seal of the Massachusetts Commonwealth. How cool, right?! (Or am I the only history buff here?)

Everyday artifacts like those found in the Boston time capsule would otherwise easily deteriorate, go missing, or otherwise disappear over time in our homes. Making your own time capsule is one way to send your stories traveling through time, leaving something of life as you know it to be discovered by someone in the future. Here’s what you need:

  1. A secure capsule. Find a container made of strong plastic or stainless steel that will accommodate all the items you want to pack inside. You might also consider a screw top bottle. Whatever you use, make sure it seals against outside water and air.
  2. A collection of everyday artifacts. Paper items work well (newspaper articles, maps, a personal diary or a favorite book), as do metal items (coins, key chains, pins, jewelry), textiles (item of clothing, handkerchief, etc), and photographs. Make sure everything is clean and free of bugs or any kind of chemical treatment. Don’t put anything that might contaminate other items in the capsule or will change in any way on its own over time, like food, plants, animals, or anything made of rubber.
  3. A place to plant your capsule. You might bury your capsule in your yard, for the next owners to find, or maybe hide it somewhere in your home to uncover later yourself. If inside your home, keep away from heating / cooling vents and anywhere else where temperatures may reach extremes.

I suggest taking a look at the guidelines put together by the Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute on constructing a time capsule and what to include. They have ALL the details you could ever imagine, including a list of chemicals you may not realize are emitted by certain substances over time.

Once you make your time capsule – I’d love to hear about it! You can share your story by clicking on “Submit Your Story” in the menu above and, if it’s alright with you, I’d love to share it in a future post on this blog. If you have a photo or video you’d like to submit along with your story, let me know. If you’d prefer to remain anonymous in the sharing of your story, I will not share your name. If you’d love for people to know about your creative work with your family stories, I’m happy to share your name and links. THANK YOU for taking a moment to share your story, I will do my best to honor it in the sharing.

Some other helpful resources on making your own time capsule:

Library of Congress

Northeast Document Conservation Center (for the general preservation of family artifacts)

Time capsule ideas on Pinterest




Life and Death and Life: Keeping the Memory of Lost Ones Alive

I lost a favorite aunt to cancer last year. At her graveside service this summer, we each selected a different flower from a bouquet to place in her grave with the ashes. After laying my flower, I was watching others do the same, when I saw a great blue heron flying in its awkward gait in near silence, low to the ground and right over our small group on its way to the pond beyond the trees.

Photo uncredited, from http://dunescenter.org/dunes-in-flight-the-great-blue-heron/

Was it her? I thought. Is she here among us, still, in some other form?  

As we grieve the loss of a life, we come to fully comprehend death as a part of life; over time, we see how death also gives way to new life, and we find both little and large ways to keep living our own lives. As a collective human culture, we keep past lessons and experiences alive through the telling of stories in a variety of cultural traditions. Our little family is no exception, filling the empty space at the dinner table with new stories about my aunt’s life every time we gather.

Hello & Goodbye, the first song on Dreams & Ghosts, is a song about how our past lives remain a part of our present lives, and invites the question: How do you keep the past alive in your life? For those interested in actively recording their reflections on these questions, I like to offer different writing exercises to accompany these invitations.

I’m sure my small story about my aunt made you think of someone who had a large presence in your own life. Or perhaps it made you think of a small ritual or some creature or object that always reminds you of someone from your past. Whatever it made you think of, start there.

Try this:

Set a timer for 10 minutes. On a blank piece of paper, or in your journal, or on your voice recorder, start with that person or that symbol and tell the story of it. Don’t stop talking, don’t lift the pen from the page if you can. Don’t worry about the order of things, just write. If you get stuck, come back to this: Who has had an important impact on your life? How do you keep that person alive in your life? What are three things you want to make sure you never forget about them?

What have you discovered? What surprised you? What are the gaps in the story that might be able to be filled by others who remember these places?

If you like, I welcome you to share your story, and let me know how you experienced this exercise. You may also be interested in looking at other writing exercises on this blog.