‘Undelivered Mail’: To expiry dates

May 4, 2023, 11:31 p.m.

How many times have you wanted to say something but stopped yourself just before you did? “Undelivered Mail” features letters thought out but never sealed and delivered: to concepts, people and navigating life, through my eyes.

Dear expiry dates,

For fifteen years, I didn’t believe you were real. Well, that’s a bit of an exaggeration; everything surrounding me told me you weren’t. As Ma gently shoved the hummus back into the fridge, she shrugged, “Best-by dates are recommendations! We don’t HAVE to listen to those!”

And so, week after week, you were glossed over as a product of capitalism and consumerism.

I’m glad to finally have met another side of you.

Letting go is ridiculously difficult for how easy it should be. Tug-of-war: muddy, red, and chanting to no avail at your neighboring tug-of-war-er, you’re pulling as hard as possible. From a physics standpoint, the build-up of tension should be enough that letting go is so much easier than holding on — why do we keep pulling?

As the expiration of my first year here is slowly coming closer — it’s impossible to dismiss how these expiry dates come up in our lives. More than that, hummus sitting in the fridge, way past its ‘once opened, consume in three days’ everything that begins has to have an end. As I have to start thinking about where I’m going to keep all the things I’ve collected this year when I fly back across the world, I’m reevaluating these expiry dates, those silently ticking time bombs on experiences, friendships, and our food containers.

Is there one singular optimal moment? One specific moment when the stars are all perfectly aligned to give you the most perfect experience for something? I don’t know. Take our move-in day. Would my life at college be completely different if I walked in a couple of hours later? Maybe! But restricting ourselves to these crazy limitations, limit us from even finding this elusive optimal moment (if it even exists).

I do, however, know that even though I hated every time my grandmother would ignore one of those dates as a child, I’m starting to love ignoring them. The hands of a clock are moving too fast to decide that time will be gone once they rush past — something I should be reminding myself of more often. There’s simply not enough time to give up on things just because it seems like the optimal time to do them has run away, so far away in your rearview mirror that it’s barely a speck anymore. I didn’t apply to that club. I didn’t go to that lunch. Didn’t make it for that catch-up call with my friends from home. Wouldn’t wander out of my comfort zone to go say hi, ‘fake it till I make it’ at NSO. Why? I didn’t think the time was right. Was the time right? Probably not. But my grandmother’s philosophy on not throwing things out might have some value. 

Strangely enough, this is also a double-edged sword. As much as I’d love to embrace waving a giant goodbye to these expiry dates, they keep us from grasping onto that tug-of-war rope till no one is left standing, from holding on so long that our hands are blistered and tired. Letting go is a skill not easily learned because learning it would mean unlearning — letting go — of so much that we already know. 

Sometimes, it’s important to recognize that our stomachs aren’t infallible to something too far beyond its expiry date. A friendship turned bitter. A class that’s just not right. Sometimes, listening to these expiry dates can only do us good.

I’ve struggled with this — holding on too tight to things because I’m too scared to let go. From teddy bears from my childhood that I dragged to college, holding on too tight to my dad’s hand on my first day of kindergarten, to birthday cards with hastily scribbled messages fraught with cliches, my memories are held in meaningless objects. Letting go is incredibly difficult. But, by realizing that things can come to a natural end, that ebbs and flows have to ebb eventually, and that sometimes, even the buffer period every single (ok, most) expiry date has doesn’t go on forever, lets us keep moving on. Does moving on come with regrets? Most definitely. But perhaps those regrets remind you of the dangers of what could’ve happened if you held on for longer.

I’m still balancing Ma’s philosophy and my incessant need to follow your printed numbers on packaging. It’s a thin line, deciding whether or not to listen to your subdued cries, but at least now I know there is a balance to be found. How will I find it? Let’s see!



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