As a kid, the only anniversary in my life belonged to my parents. I only understood the concept in terms of weddings. Fast forward a few years and I’m celebrating the inane anniversaries of high school romances: anniversary of our first date, anniversary of our first ice cream, anniversary of other firsts that I thought would signify my forever romance or turn into, maybe, the celebration of a wedding.
Back then, anniversaries were always celebrations of happiness, recalling a day or moment when life changed for the better. Those still exist, but somewhere in the past few years, the more pervasive anniversaries of sad days moved into my life. It’s possible it’s just a consequence of growing older, the rosy-hued days of youth giving way to the jaded and complex days of adulthood. But recently, I started rethinking the days that we give meaning to, the days that we pause to remember some event – both good and bad.
I used to pause on the anniversary of my surgery. It’s coming up soon and so is the necessary contemplation that goes along with it. In cancer groups, people discuss celebrating their “Cancerversaries,” marking the day they were diagnosed with some gallows humor fanfare. Like, “Congratulations on Not Dying!” piped in pink frosting on chocolate cakes, or celebrating “Rebirthdays” on the day they received life-saving stem cells. It’s a staple for some, but also triggering for others who believe that reminders of the past should maybe just stay in the past.
I’m on the fence in the debate. Sometimes I bristle at it. Other times I embrace it. Regardless, when certain dates creep up in the calendar, I find myself mentally gearing up for it like a birthday – knowing it’s there, year after year, the same mix of bitter and sweet.
The first anniversary after my son’s diagnosis, I locked the doors and wouldn’t let anyone out of the house, thinking that by keeping everyone home, nothing could happen. That we would get past the day unscathed. And even though I knew intellectually that particular day was no different than the day before except in the number we gave it on the calendar, keeping everyone in one place gave me a childish sense of control. If we escape the day, we will survive the year. I won’t be surprised again. Won’t be caught off-guard. That day, as long as I remember it, will be a safe day.
I can’t keep my family locked up every year and I can’t wait with bated breath for catastrophe to strike. Balancing the acknowledgment of an anniversary without emotionally going back to those moments takes time. Marking the day isn’t choosing to stay in that past, rather it is an affirmation of the future. The years that tik down after an “anniversary” give proof to the constancy of life and happiness in the face of difficult days and struggles.
We celebrate the anniversary of a wedding, pause and reflect on the anniversary of a tragedy, and ultimately contemplate all the anniversaries that make up the fabric of a life lived and experienced.
Today is an anniversary I remember each year, holding it for a few moments in the day as a reminder of where I was and where I am now. It’s taken a while to realize that though the day looms heavy on the calendar, giving myself space to recognize it does not give it power, does not send me hiding into my home.
All our days are anniversaries of something. Sometimes you don’t realize the implications of the events of a day. Other times, those events explode in your face leaving a day that is forever scarred, leaving you with an anniversary you would never wish for.
The anniversaries in my life are a mix of celebrations and contemplations battling against each other for days on the calendar that I count down towards in both expectation and apprehension. They are the scaffolding that make up the cataclysmic moments in life – both good and bad – that demand some type of meditation.
This is my meditation. This is my anniversary.