When I was a little kid, the only anniversary that impacted me or my friends was a birthday. Celebration, party, cake, ice cream, gifts; it was the best day of the year. Well, except for Christmas, but the dynamics of that day were entirely different from the annual birthday bash.
Passing of time changed all that. As we grew, and the boundaries of our worlds expanded, including more people and places, with experiences both good and bad; we marked additional annual remembrances with joy and sorrow. Births, deaths, accomplishments, arrivals, departures, beginnings, endings. Dates for them all became forever etched into our memories, and onto our calendars.
It always has been easy to celebrate the happy moments; to recall with pride and joy successes, additions, and forward movements in our journeys. But, those times of loss, failure, or profound disappointment are another story. During one particular crisis, many years ago, I had a friend tell me, “You will never forget, but it won’t always hurt to remember.” There are events in my life where I still am waiting for the pain to subside. I believed what my friend told me; however, experientially, it simply has not happened.
Actually, to be more precise, I think the years give clarity to what were, at one time, emotionally cataclysmic events. As in that moment, ones entire being was engulfed by the shock, horror, or depth of an experience, and passing time redefines and gives understanding to what exactly causes continued pain.
Perhaps, it is too simplistic a view, but I believe at the core of long-term sorrow is an irreversible, unalterable loss of hope for what could have been. We are left with a big, vacant place in our souls where before we had a bright, exciting, solid future. That once vibrant hope can be replaced with a new thing, but that which was lost can never be restored. And some of us never quite recover from what was, even if opportunities for new beginnings knock on our doors.
That having been said, it bears pointing out that these are private, personal chambers in our minds, where we visit now and again. One cannot dwell there forever, but anniversaries can call one to stop in for a while, and reminisce. And so it is today.
He was one of the brightest, funniest, and most creative people, ever. We had known each other since our sophomore year in high school, and devotion never waned, even though our paths took different directions after our first year in college. He went to Vietnam, I moved to the Bay Area. Our lives progressed over the years, and through the growth and changes, our friendship and affection remained intact. So strong was our bond, we miraculously found each other again after thirty-seven years apart. It was as though time had waited for us. We picked up right where we left off, made a commitment to spend the rest of our days together, and rejoiced at what our future held.
Our cross-country drive from California to Maine was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. We saw this country up close and personal. It was huge, magnificent, and every mile was entertaining. We had to work at making those endless corn fields fun, but we did it. There were some sobering moments mixed in with the joy of our journey; he developed pneumonia, and was hospitalized in Iowa. He recovered, but during his stay I was presented with medical records which explained in detail two previous heart by-pass surgeries, which were ten years apart; the first when he was thirty-seven, the second when he was forty-seven. The records also contained the current state of his heart. It was shocking and terrifying to read, and the worst of it was he was entering the tenth year after his last by-pass surgery.
He recovered, and we made it to Maine. Our house was on the bay in Owls Head, and it was perfect for two people who loved the sea, and each other. We were there for four months when it all came to a sudden end. After a walk downtown, and lunch in a quaint restaurant, we returned home. A few minutes after arriving, he had his final heart attack and died. A month before our wedding.
It was ten years ago today. I have moved on with my life, and I am able to look back on those days with gratitude. They were brief, but they were ours. Interestingly, I was so devastated, at the time, I took nothing away from the experience except his dog tags. Unusual item to hold as the representation, the touchstone of a relationship. But of all the talks about our lives, the one which moved me the most was when he described his return from Vietnam.
He said people yelled at him in the airport, and when he got home, no one cared that he had been over there, or what his duty had cost him. He saw and did things that changed him, and he had no one who cared enough to listen to him talk about it once he got back. One day he gave me his dog tags, and said he wanted me to keep them no matter what happened, because I was the only person who had ever cared that he served in Vietnam. It is all I have left of him, yet it is enough.
Anniversaries come and go. Now, this far down the road, any given year is filled with good, public celebrations, and private, sorrowful ones. Rather than focusing on the giddiness or sadness of either, I like to think the anniversaries we observe are a measure of lives well-lived, where we can face either with a hearty courage; not demanding only good times, but more than that, willing to embrace those days which gave our journeys depth.
I share this day’s observation with others, because I know I am not alone. And if there is some companionship in the expression of a common feeling found in written words, some comfort taken from realizing we are not on our journeys all by ourselves, and maybe a little courage stirred up enabling one to face a trial or a disappointment, then I feel gratified in having allowed others to know, for but a moment, someone who left us way too soon, but is remembered always.