Thursday, February 11, 2010

The day has no power.

I emailed that sentence to myself today so I'd remember to roll it around in my brain like a marble. The day has no power. No holiday, anniversary, date, time or birthday has any meaning other than what we assign to it. I know, how existential. That idea repeats in so much of what I see this week, a refrain in my universe begging dissection:
Valentines' Day looms, cloying and large for high school students unsure about what it means in their hormone-drunk lives.

Bloggers wax poetic about their significant others and daydream about heart-themed Etsy crafts.

A friend tweets about her first solo V-day after a courageous choice to move
forward with independence to find herself.

A mother who lost a son talks about how she managed to keep moving past each date once her son's life abruptly came to a halt.

A year passes since E and I separate, visit Retrouvaille, renew vows; we march steadily toward the 10 year anniversary of our original wedding.
It's on my mind. How much meaning does a day hold? Is it a symbol, meant to be decoded, or just a numeric oddity to be spectated as it skims by, a ship on the horizon? How much meaning is there in the repetition and celebration of our greatest pains and triumphs, and the inevitable passing of dates that we don't even control?

I can tell you the date of our engagement. I can tell you the date we moved into our first house. I can tell you the date of my miscarriage. I can tell you the date of the day we conceived that baby. I can tell you my birth date and those of my children. I can tell you the date Addie learned to read silently. I can tell you the dates of some of my greatest regrets, transgressions, successes, and milestones. But what does any of that mean?

A little over a year ago as I stared down an unknown future of single parenting, the dates scared me: holidays, birthdays, anniversaries to be spent alone. When I was pregnant with Hank and Roo, the date (in weeks) of my previous miscarriage scared me so badly that I wanted to pass it--that would mean conquering fate. Is that logical? Not at all. But was it prominent in my mind? With a pinpoint of terrifying certainty. I almost feel the inverse as we pass the ugly milestones of our separation. The anniversary of something doesn't hold any promise of it happening again, but we often fear the date, or feel guilt for the gap between memory and reality. I have family members that fear the age that their parents were when they died--anything beyond is borrowed time. Why do we do that?

Of course I know, to some degree. Birthdays, anniversaries, milestones--those are all little presents, little bits of glee that we anticipate with joy. Their impending nature means that we live life as a series of connect-the-dots, threading the doldrums of daily life together with hope for what's to come. This approach means that to the one who's missing a significant other, a family member who has passed on, financial stability, lost feelings, there's an inevitable comparison and a painful stab to the ego. It's the dark side of the coin: dates, a two-faced Janus--beginnings and endings together, wadded into a clumsy rubber band ball. Accepting joyous memories of fleeting bliss is also accepting the idea that the bliss might be gone by the next year.

This has been on my mind as I think about what I want our Valentines' Day to look like. It feels sophomoric to hope for a special Valentines' Day this year. That's not meant to be critical. I mean for myself, it is. Do I want to know E loves me? Sure. On Valentines' Day? *Shrug.* Sure, but on Thursday, or Tuesday, or while I'm sleeping, or cooking dinner while he tinkers in the garage... any time, any place. It's not linked to the day anymore. For me, real love, pain, joy--it's in the moment. It's in the work. It's in the fights and the days where nothing happens or the worst happens. It's in the ordinary.

I feel the same about our nebulous anniversaries. It's good we got married ten years ago, but the date is no finish line; it's just a road sign passed with regularity so we can casually remark, "cool" to each other. Does that seem distant? Emotionless? It's not intended to be. I love E with more depth and I've simultaneously loosened my grasp on externally defined dates. I'm at a place where I can accept that on any given day, E might not feel love for me. Our commitment since a year ago is to choose to love each other, in spite of how we sometimes feel.

Phew. That's kind of a mouthful. Or a handful, since I'm typing.

I'm definitely influenced by whatever I'm teaching in class. Can you tell I've been teaching existentialism? I had a conversation recently with my students about the human expectation of emotion--grief, mourning, celebration, etc--that comes along when we watch others from afar. We criticize others for not outwardly displaying emotions we deem important on holidays, dates, occasions when we believe they should feel something, or for not moving on with the speed or appropriateness we define from the outside. It's simultaneously intriguing, unavoidable, and frustrating. Do we assign meaning to a date or just let it pass? Valentines' Day feels like a requirement for the world, not me and E.

Oh I really hope I don't come off like an embittered old hag here.

What do you think? Am I off? Have you had to live an anniversary that hurt? Have you felt like you "should" feel something just because the world expected it? I'm curious.


  1. The anniversary of my dad passing is the worst one. People tell you that you slowly start to forget, but I don't think it's possible.

  2. I have lost all my grandparents to either cancer, illness, or just old age. I grieve for all of them in my own way. It doesn't mean I have forgotten about them just because I don't remember the anniversary of their deaths. I think people handle, celebrate, and grieve with emotions their own way. That's what makes us interesting as humans. No one should dictate how you should feel. What works for you is exactly that, WHAT WORKS FOR YOU. ;-)With that said, Happy whatever you want to celebrate DAY! ;-)