Monday, June 15, 2009

Of Anniversaries and Remembering

Ten days this June have been inundated with heavy rains accompanied by a flood of memories surrounding a group of planned and surpising public and personal anniversaries.My body and soul are still soaked!

Every moment of every day is an anniversary of sorts , aren't they? There are sad memories; joyous recollections; some memorable inconsequential events; people we recall who we have encountered , and places we have been that seem to kick start some emotional torrent of remembrances. Why does there seem to be so much excitement around anniversaries anyway these days? What's the significance of setting aside some time to recall a specific date or event yearly or on a regular basis? Not all events or circumstances from the past are worth celebrating , or are they? Isn't ok just to forget what has happened ? Aren't we supposed to live in the present? These are the kinds of questions that keep my brain from resting and sleeping at night . Maybe it was the memories surfaced by some recent anniversaries that fueled this sleepless inquisitiveness.Maybe I am just getting old.

The other day while reading about the 65th anniversary of the Normandy Invasion,D-Day, I found a surprising message pop up from Lindsay on my email . Lindsay reminded me that it was ten months to the day, June 4 2009 , since my CABG(by-pass surgery.) "My how time flies by", she added. Lindsay likes to keep track of events in her life like that.That event is an oft revisited turning point in our lives. I like to think of it as a little more spiritually transformative than a commencement exercise . Sometimes I really don't think much about how my surgery had impacted others . I think for Lindsay and Leigh that this date and event had a significant impact on their lives (more than I can imagine.) A friend of mine thinks that my personal attitude and approach to the surgery was a foundation for and influenced greatly how my daughters experienced it and recall it. Leigh has told me that she believes that since that surgery I am much "calmer" and "less stressed and stressing" now. I wonder about her and her sister.But maybe the remembering has to do with the unique bond between fathers and daughters.

This memorial article I was reading on the anniversay of D-Day also had an impact as it recalled for me how my dad was at the Normandy Invasion , "D- day plus three." He was a 19 year old tank commander in General George Patton's Third Armored Division. My father never spoke much about the war. The only time he seemed to verbalize his remembrances of the war or his feelings about that time in his life is when we would watch a movie about the war. He would quietly lecture that war was quite gruesome and not glamorous at all.He added that the violence and suffering was too horrific to recall, speak about or even portray on film.That infamous day in June and WW II was a transformative turning point for my father and millions of others. He also spoke about meeting my mother. This great world-wide drama and tragedy became a theater of coincidental events that brought my mother and father together. My mother was a "displaced Italian now a Brit" living in England and a member of the famous "Land Army." She met my "Yank" father who was stationed nearby her temporary home (where she lived and worked in England before dad departed for the great war on the continent.) After the war they would marry in the US and create a family and many memories and celebrations.

My friend Kirk once visited the vast battle memorial cemetery at Normandy,France. He shared a somber observation that the graves of so many young men reminded him that there were thousands who would never marry or have children. They wouldn't have birthdays,holidays and wedding anniversaries to celebrate. Yet, we would would remember that invasion and recall and pray for them on the anniversary of their great sacrifice.

June seems to be filled with a number of anniversaries. The media reminded us that this month and year is also the twenetieth anniversary of the Tienneman Square demonstrations and massacre in Beijing,China. It is not very hard to forget the picture of the one lone brave man who "faced down " the tanks as they entered the square to disperse the dissidents. As the tanks tried to avoid this one man he would move back into the path of the oncoming trembling rumbling mass of metal and firepower. There were thousands who stood up for freedom then when finally the Chinese government decided that "enough was enough." Many were killed and imprisoned for their desire and commitment to freedom.When I see that picture or recall those brave young people I remember the freedoms and gifts I have taken for granted. Additionaly, this anniversary causes me to think " What and who am I willing to die for ?"

Sometimes anniversaries come out of traditions. Lindsay came home for the weekend recently and we continued with our new small tradition of attending the celebration of the Mass at a small chapel at the Loyola House of Retreats on Sundays . That Sunday started as just another day t. I am slowly learning that though each day is gift and new it is also an anniverary for someone , for some thing or event.

Fr.Gerry, entered the chapel prepared as the "celebrant" to preside over the liturgy of the Eucharist wearing what appeared to be Irish accented adorned vestments. With a quiet smile and voice he humbly and proudly announced that the vestments he was wearing were the ones he wore 35 years ago at the presiding over and celebration of his first Mass as a priest. He was celebrating his anniversary on the feast day, and annual celebration and remembrance , of the Holy Trinity. It was Fr. Gerry who blessed me with the Sacrament of Healing on the Feast day of St. Ignatius Loyola ten months ago and a couple of days before I went in the hospital for my heart surgery. I am grateful for a variety of reasons for Gerry's commitment , vows and of course his prayers. Lindsay and I were honored to celebrate his annivesary with him.

Now it is just a couple of days before the anniversay of exchanging marriage vows with Ginny. Though we believed that we had mapped out our future course adequately we had no idea where the journey would take us or how we would survive the unforseen adventures yet to come. Our odyssey together has been marked with many blessings, joys, trials and broken hearts.Fr. Bill queried about the secret of making it so far.My response, "a lot of work, love, faith and some more work." But in remembering all the challenges and blessings it is not hard to think about how just ten months ago when we worried that our eyes would meet and lips would touch for one last time as they rolled me into surgery. Ginny said she doesn't remember that moment that way. Sometimes the remembering is quite personal and a matter of perspective,isn't it?

Suddenly , somehow a mild illumination seeps through the cracks of this travel worn weathered soul.What I have read in volumes over the years affirms a central theme that has been the topic of exchanges with my friends, Fr. Lou and Fr. Bill. Without getting in to a theological and psychological treatise , the notion is very simple... is sometimes easier for our simple human hearts and minds to see and understand God in our life and journey in retrospect.

Whether we are experiencing good times or enduring the trials of the world, the presence and fullness of the love of God may not always be fully appreciated in the present. St. Ignatius stresses the importance of "remembering" as prayer.

Maybe this is one essential truth of the significance and purpose of celebrating annivesaries.

"Remembrance is a form of meeting"
- Kahil Gibran

"We sanctify all we are grateful for "
- Anthony DeMello SJ

"My how time flies by"
- Lindsay

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