What makes a day significant?
Yesterday was John Irving’s birthday, Texas Independence Day, and my parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary. It was also the day my mother traveled to MD Anderson Hospital for her check-up to hear she is cancer free and discharged back to her primary doctor for future follow up. Yesterday was also the day David Letterman said, “Bush is in India. He keeps asking when they’re going to that “new deli” he’s heard so much about.”
March Second was an important day.
Today, March Third, is Alexander Graham Bell’s birthday. If it hadn’t been for him, I wouldn’t be able to receive all the calls I’m going to get from frantic teenagers asking last minute questions before we leave on our church ski weekend this evening. It’s also Ira Glass’ birthday. He’s the host of This American Life on NPR, a wonderful radio magazine that simply lets people tell their stories and finds the connections between them. Talking about everything from death to donuts, he has a marvelous way of showing how the major themes of life play out in our daily existence. (I know all these birthdays because I read The Writer’s Almanac website, by the way.)
In the Brasher-Cunningham household, March Third is The Day of Gifts For No Reason. I love this day. Going back to the early days of our relationship and the first March Third we knew each other, I gave Ginger a theology book, a CD, and flowers because I had never dated anyone to whom I could give all three. She was the whole package. Still is. I’ve continued the tradition every year (except for the one year I forgot – that still hurts me) and today remains a significant day not because we were told it was, but because we have infused it with meaning.
This year, the book was The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective, the CD was Putamayo’s Brazilian Lounge, and the flowers were a mix of yellow tulips and purple and yellow irises. All three represent things that both feed Ginger and express who she is. All three represent how much she matters to me.
March Third is a significant day.
Days that matter don’t stand alone; you have to get ready for them. When our friend Jay started working for the American Heart Association here in Boston as the Gala Coordinator, I thought a gala was a one night deal where you invited a bunch of rich people, told them to stuff their pockets with money, and then showed them a good time so they’d give all that money to heart research. I was wrong. Jay spent all year creating his significant day. Rather than being one day out of the ordinary, the Gala became The Day: an emblem of all the ordinary days that had led up to it. The fundraising and research went on everyday; the Gala was when it was celebrated.
In church life, the two Sundays with the biggest crowds are the Sunday before Christmas and Easter Day. You can count on the church being packed with folks you haven’t seen since that last Big Day. In ministerial jargon, they’re known as the “C & E Crowd.” I’m glad when anyone shows up at church for whatever reason and I’m sad for them because I think they can only glimpse the significance of the day – and the church – by being there only for the culmination of all the ordinary days that led up to that moment.
Some days we see coming; some days are anniversaries of things yet to come. In John Irving’s wonderful novel, A Prayer for Owen Meany, Owen spends much of the book practicing for a moment he believes is coming, though he doesn’t really know what or when it will be. He just knows to live everyday as if it were going to be The Day. In one of my favorite poems, W. S. Merwin writes about an ultimate anniversary:
For the Anniversary of My Death
Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Like the beam of a lightless star
Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
And the love of one woman
And the shamelessness of men
As today writing after three days of rain
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
And bowing not knowing to what
I am intrigued by the idea of what today might become. When I look back on today, a year or a lifetime from now, what will I remember? Will this be the day that one of the kids on the ski trip comes to a deeper understanding of her faith? Will this be the day I begin to get a clearer view of what the next chapter of my life is going to look like?
What will today become? How will it be remembered?
Most significant anniversaries point to joy, accomplishment, or tragedy: July 4, December 25, September 11. When histories are written, time is too often marked by wars and the lives of the leaders who caused them. I remember sitting in history classes wondering what everyday people were doing while their kings and presidents were spanning the globe, living out the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Most people were living their lives, working, cooking, loving, and marking their days with things that would not be remembered much beyond their circle of friends and family.
Bush is in Pakistan today. All the news outlets are making a big deal out of his trip, but a year from now – hell, a week from now – no one will remember today as the day he went to Islamabad. A year from now — and a lifetime from now, I will remember today as the day I gave Ginger a book, a CD, and a vase full of tulips and irises for no other reason than I love her with all of my heart. She will remember as well.
That, my friends, is history in the making.
NOTE: I’m skiing with the kids until Sunday; I won’t write tomorrow, but you will hear from me for the rest of the Lenten season.