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Anniversaries

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There’s a reason that people celebrate anniversaries. Whether it’s something good or something bad, annual commemorations give us the opportunity for reflection. This week, I had four anniversaries, and I’d like to point out something about each of them.

I’ll start with the one that everyone is aware of: the anniversary of September 11. Even three years after the attacks, we are still feeling their impact. There are hundreds of remains from the World Trade Center that still haven’t been identified. Even more damaging than that loss, if such a thing is possible, is the loss of our naivet? as a nation. Terror was something far away, happening in countries like Israel or Yemen, or else an isolated incident like the Oklahoma City bombing, the work of a small group. With September 11, we were forced to confront the fact that there are organizations that stand against what we hold dear, who are willing to kill themselves and other innocents to make that message clear. But more and more, I wonder how long we’ll be able to hold onto that memory. There were around 30 people at this year’s vigil, down a great deal from past years. Yeah, we can say part of that was because it was a weekend, and I’ll be honest — I didn’t attend either. But is that day going to remain etched in our memories, or will it fade? Few commemorate December 7 any more, and the two attacks share a great number of parallels.

The second anniversary I celebrated just reinforced that thought. Over the past week, it was the tenth anniversary of my maternal grandfather’s death. He died when I was only 11 years old, and when I try to remember him, it’s all fuzzy. There’s the little things, like the way he always ate his corn with a fork, or the time he took my sister and me to McDonald’s when we were in our PJs, or the time he let me watch The Simpsons in his room because he didn’t know my parents said that I couldn’t. And I’m reminded of him when I clean out my razor, because the smell of the whiskers is something I’ll always associate with him. But I know that there has to be so much more that I can’t remember because I never really realized then that he would be gone. To me, that’s one of the things that I regret the most, and it was only at this anniversary that I realized it.

Yesterday at church, the priest took time during his welcoming to point out a couple up front who was celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary. That’s the one where the gift is ruby, for those who keep track of such things. With around 43 percent of all new marriages ending in divorce, to make it to 40 years together is a real accomplishment. At that point, it can be hard for two people to live that long, let alone with each other. I didn’t get a chance to see them or talk to them, but I’d like to know what that meant to them. Is that 40 years together a special thing, or is each day together a gift by itself? If I have trouble remembering 10 years ago clearly, what is it like for them at 40 years?

Finally, there’s one of the most simple anniversaries of all — a birthday. Though none of us can claim to remember that day, we all use it to celebrate when we came into the world. It’s a time to gather with friends and remember the good times. Thanks to thefacebook.com, I now get notifications for all my friends’ birthdays, so I know that Sarah had her birthday the other day. Happy belated birthday, Sarah. I hope it was a good one.

And in the end, that’s the point of anniversaries. For some of them, we celebrate the happiness that the years have brought us. Others, all that can be done is pray for repose of the soul. All of them make us look back on what we have, and try to hold onto it. They are a time to reflect on the past and work to improve the future.