Friday, May 8, 2009

Time Flys, While Standing Still - The Dates that Count

This weekend is the start of the annual trifecta in my family. Between now and May 16 falls Mother’s Day, my birthday and our wedding anniversary.

At the time the stars aligned, I didn’t plan for these momentous occasions to fall so close together. I was actually born on Mother’s Day and every six (or is it seven?) years, the two events collide. My mother never forgave me for the inconvenience of labor and childbirth on a holiday created to recognize her supreme sacrifice and one of the few upsides she’d discovered to the whole parenting thing.

Twenty years later, she decreed that no daughter of hers would bring shame to the family by becoming a teen-aged bride. Three days after my twentieth birthday, I married.

I’m not sure why we started calling this time of year the trifecta. It probably has something to do with the fact that the Kentucky Derby runs right around these dates. Ever since I became a mother, the most recent of the 3 holidays I qualified for, we treat the individual dates more like a season. A low key season to be sure, but a season.

My sister in law, who believes in massive celebrations for every personal holiday, (she manages to stretch her April birthday celebration into a 30 day bacchanal) feels sorry for me that all 3 days fall so close together. I miss two other occasions each year to be feted. She says it is almost as sad as being born on Christmas.

I like the symmetry of it though. It sounds old fashioned and decidedly un-feminist to say, but the natural progression from birth to marriage to motherhood sort of appeals to me. I can’t decide however, whether I should shoot for dying during this time frame or not. It seems fitting to do so.

On the other hand, I had no say in being born, and had no plans to experience the other two events up until a good 10 minutes after each one had happened. Marriage and motherhood never factored into my plans and ambitions. I stumbled into both and realize daily how lucky I was.

Time has been a great deal on my mind lately. In earlier posts, I’ve touched on how my view of time and its constancy is evolving. As I approach the annual reminder of the three most momentous events in my life, I am again rolling the idea of the passage of time around in my head.

While I realize the marking of events by days on a calendar is artificial, it is the way humankind marks events. The number of hours in a day, days in a week, weeks in a month and months in a year may be supported by mathematical calculations, but they are not elemental. Not essential for our existence. We could decree tomorrow that we will start measuring and marking the passage of time by a single revolution of Saturn around the sun, by the passage of Halley’s Comet by the earth, or the life cycle of salmon.

If we changed our measurement of time, what would happen to my birthday, my anniversary? How would it be marked? How would I know when to expect gifts, breakfast in bed and extra-special anniversary sex?

Fortunately, I don’t see this as an issue looming large on the horizon. We are creatures of habit, so while our current method of delineating years isn’t perfect (think: leap year) we are not likely to change to Saturn’s or salmon’s cycles anytime soon.

The real question is, the year after I die, is my birthday still my birthday? Does the fact that a person, now dead, was born on that date have any relevance? I always remember my Mother’s birthday, twenty years after her death. I remember my grandparent’s anniversary. I celebrate neither. No presents, no breakfast in bed, no extra-special anniversary sex. After I am gone, no one else will remember either event.

Even birthdays of the dead that we do celebrate – Lincoln’s and Washington’s – have become inaccurate for convenience sake. So, do I pause in quiet appreciation of Lincoln’s birthday on February 12th or on Presidents Day?

I like the idea that for as long as humans exist on earth and their measurement of time does not change, May 12th will always be my birthday, whether anyone is alive who even knew of my existence or not. It isn’t the remembrance or the celebration that marks the date. It is the fact that the date exists and on that date in one year of thousands, I was born. It is another small way I mark my immortality, my existence beyond the finite borders of birth and death.

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