When is a Birthday Not a Birthday?
When it becomes an anniversary.
Like everyone else, I'm reminded of that fateful day in 2001. Tomorrow, 9/11, will be the seven year anniversary of that tragedy that touched the lives of... well, not just Americans, but the entire world. Glued to the television images that day, as so many others were, a thought flashed through my head for a instant. I was selfishly grateful, guiltily grateful, that it happened on September 11th and not September 10th, as that was Joshua's birthday and if it had happened on that date, it would have changed the meaning of that date forever.
It was to become an ironic thought. In April of 2002 Joshua was killed and September 10th was forever changed anyway. It was no longer just the date of Joshua's birthday, it was the anniversary of his birthday. Another of many anniversaries we play out silently in our heads every year. The anniversary of his death, the anniversary of the last hug, the anniversary of another Thanksgiving without him at the table, the anniversary of another summer without a visit... This year, Joshua would have been 26.
I never know how any of these anniversaries will affect me. Sometimes I go sailing through them just fine one year, only to have them hit me like a semi the following year. Sometimes I work things out before the date. Sometimes it hits me after the date. Sometimes I'll be dreading an anniversary, feel it creeping up on the calendar, and then the date goes whooshing by while I'm busy with life and I don't think about it until later, maybe that night, surprised that I could have missed it. This April we were in Paris during the anniversary of Joshua's death. I knew it was coming up but on that day we were busy, happy, the date blissfully forgotten. And yet, in the wee hours before dusk of the next morning, nine hours ahead as the time and date finally caught up back in California, my body remembered. I woke up suddenly in the dark, alone and sobbing.
Sometimes I'm more angry than sad. Or maybe it's more of a frustration. I deliberately put symbolic hands over my thoughts and sing "La la la la la - I know you're there but I'm not listening!" But even those anniversaries when I'm fine, someone else in the family is having a hard day or week and I'm there to hug or talk or just acknowledge their memories or pain. We tend to all "take turns". We cover each other. You'd think that this road would be sort of predictable, but what I've learned all these years down it, it's anything but.
This time of year things get even more confusing as the happy and sad get tossed together. William's birthday was yesterday and Joshua's today. I remember how relieved Joshua was at nine years old that he didn't end up sharing his birthday with his baby brother. We try to downplay Joshua's birthday now because William doesn't need that sort of association. In fact, the last few years, with everyone's schedules making it so hard for even the three of us at home to be together, William's birthday has started to slop on over into today. It gives us a way to keep the date a joyful one. I think Joshua understands. But the date is wedged in on both sides, the other being 9/11. Even having very minimal personal ties to the tragedy, I suffered real and long lasting Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome after the fact that year. Too, that was also the year hubby battled cancer and we had to pack up our most precious belongings and wait as a forest fire crept closer and closer, within a quarter mile of our home. So my personal grief over the loss of a son gets all tangled up with my grief and fear and anger over the way our lives changed forever when our family's innocence was shattered in the summer of 2001 and when those planes were hijacked and shattered the innocence of the entire world in September.
It's a common phenomenon, this blending of tragedies. Anyone that has experienced a loss of any kind knows that any subsequent loss drags all the previous losses in ones life out for another round of light and shadow games. It's probably a good thing, it helps us to process and reprocess in bits and pieces so that we don't just do it all at once and explode (or implode as some folks do). But it's not a lot of fun, say, compared to a nice little anonymous date on the calendar that rings no bells or blows no whistles. It's not as fun as a day when the worst thing written on the calender is "Go to bank - deposit rebate check, William - dentist 1:30, and Dinner with Shelly 7:00". The older I get, the more my ball of losses gets snarled up, the more I learn to appreciate the beauty of an ordinary day.
I'm okay this year. As okay as can be I suppose. I can't tell you whether I'll be okay tomorrow, or next week, but I'm not bad at the moment. I will probably choose not to watch much news coverage of the anniversary tomorrow. But that doesn't mean I won't be thinking of everyone, all of us round the world, with losses big and small, private or shared, new and sharp or old and worn. One thing I never forget - every date on the calender is an anniversay for someone.