On October 11, 19-something, I got a call from an old college buddy. October 11 is apparently National Coming Out Day, a significant day in the gay community when LGBT people come out to someone close to them who doesn’t know. I was shocked–I had no idea. We had talked about girls for hours over beers and “za.” (transl. pizza). To help process the information, I called another friend, who was apparently sitting next to his wife when the phone rang.
Me: “Mike, does the date October 11 mean anything to you?”
Mike: “October 11th? No, what’s special about that date…OUCH…yeah, it’s my wife’s birthday.”
Most of us have heard by now about Eugene Han and Kirstin Davis, a married couple who will not likely ever forget their wedding anniversary. They were on a date in a movie theatre in Aurora Co on July 20th, 2012 when a crazed gunman shot up the theatre, hitting Han a few times as he shielded her body with his. They chose to be married on the one year anniversary of the shooting, this past Saturday. They may have picked that day to get married to “reclaim that day” as a gesture of life moving on, or they may have done it as a media gimmick to get attention. Either way, the date itself is significant to them. Really, though, is the date significant? Was the sunlight a different color that day, one year later? Did it rise from the West? For most of use, July 20th, 2013 was just Saturday.
The anniversaries of birth serve a clear purpose. When I look into a mirror these past few days, I see a goatee which is all white on my chin. Not salt and pepper. Salt. The weight doesn’t drop off as it used to, the workouts make me walk like a penguin for hours. As my birthday approaches, I take stock of where I am, where I was, and where I think I should be. I quietly lament that calling myself “old” is less a self-effacing bid for attention and more a reality. Most important, my birthday is an opportunity for me to get presents. (Like a new laptop, Elena. Just saying…)
On the other hand, do “death days” really serve a purpose? Don’t get me wrong: I mark them like everybody else. Last December, I found myself…uhm…(OK, it’s kind of hard to admit this…bear with me) listening to The Four Seasons on Spotify. Yep, Frankie Valli, “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” etc.
This was on December 12th. Incidentally, that’s Frank Sinatra’s birthday. As I was listening, doing the dishes while my wife bathed the kids, I thought about my Dad, and how I used to listen to his old Four Seasons vinyl when I was a kid. (By the way, music used to be played on these vinyl discs which scratched easily…long story.) I remembered that the anniversary of my Dad’s death was coming up….then I remembered it was on the 12th…then I wondered what day it was…then I looked it up, and it was the 12th. “What a funny coincidence,” I told my wife as I related the story. I listened to “Sherry” and then I…well, who here has seen the end of “Old Yeller?”
My Dad was just as dead on December 11th, and on that 12th, doing those dishes, I had every reason to believe he would be just as dead the next day…and I was right. The next day, when there was a slow knock at the door, I assumed it was a deliveryman, and it was, and the delivery was not that dessicated monkey’s paw I’d ordered. It was furniture, I think.
My sister Katie would make a calendar for Mom and all her siblings every Christmas, with family photos and significant dates identified. I remember the first year she did it, December 12th was marked “Daddy Death Day.” Following years were not so starkly identified, but there was always something. One year, she wrote, “Smooches,” I suppose as a reminder that she loves all of us and still loves Dad.
Obviously, 911 is a date everyone recognizes, although I steadfastly insist on marking the day as my sister Sammy’s birthday. (Tough birthday to have, I bet.) For most of us, the date is significant and needs to be honored, even if some of us crassly exploit the day for marketing or political purposes. It’s really just a day, though, and the memory of what happened 12 years ago is just as fresh on September 10th. So why make a big deal about the date? Are we still just taking stock? Are we using the day to think about things so we don’t have to think of them on other days? Aren’t we just applying our own structure to make sense of events which themselves suggest the universe is absurd and has no real meaning or structure?
Whoah. OK, we’re over my pay grade now, and I’ve got a headache. All I know is that I met my wife on March 1st, 2006, and we were married February 10, 2007. I honor those dates every year, and not because I will get in trouble if I don’t. OK, that too.
(Author’s note: the original edition had my wedding day as February 7, but my wife caught it.)