I’m not good at keeping track of the days. I usually know what day of the week it is, but I am always haunted by the sense that I am forgetting something important. This is so even though I hand draw a calendar for myself two times a month for the whole month, and once every week for the whole week. I laboriously draw the lines, write in the days, number them, write in all the appointments, turn it over and rewrite my lists, hoping to trick myself into remembrance. And yet still, when it comes down to it, I manage to forget…and yes, I do habitually alarm my phone, and leave myself notes, and try to remind myself, and have an electronic calendar.
There’s something about knowing the date that trips me up.
So yesterday, not being on social media because of the busyness of the day—the going first to church, then on a fruitless errand, then back home, then back out, then back home, then back out—I found myself mid-afternoon hunched over in the walk-in with my youngest child, trying to find my insurance card, and failing to get a handle on the date.
“What day is it?” I asked the exhausted person on the other side of the desk. No number was hanging in the little place on the sign that says, “Today Is_____.”
“It’s September eleventh,” she said, without any hint that both of us should have known the day. I shuddered, wrote it down, and handed her the clipboard.
Three minutes later she came round the desk with another piece of paper. “I forgot, you have to sign this, and date it, she said.” I took the pen and wrote my name and then came to the long blank line for the date.
“What day is it?” I asked again, suddenly confused, and embarrassed that I had already asked, knowing that the day was important and here I was asking a second time.
“You both aren’t having a very good day,” she said, kindly, without malice, without judgment. “It’s September eleventh.”“Oh yes! Sorry,” I said, scrawling out again. Then we went back into the brightly sterile examination room and were happy to discover there’s nothing more exceptional than a fever that might be turning into a cold or something. No earache, no throat problem, everything is fine.
Except that I am getting older and groping ever more in the dark for the day, for the word on the tip of my tongue that has suddenly flown away, for my phone that I keep putting down and forgetting about. If my glasses weren’t on my nose I would lose them.
And that’s the trouble. Something bad happens on a day and the day fixes itself in your consciousness, and you know what you were wearing, and what you were doing, and the strange unmoored feeling of the whole world together catapulted into disorienting grief. But the terrible force of time, like water silently smoothing out the jagged edges of a stone, bears it away. You look at the date, and you know its grief, but you can’t grab it and explain it very well any more. Its just another day that you rush through in your life, trying to keep your act together.
It’s not, of course. Those days of personal catastrophe that fix themselves in your soul, and the collective ones of a nation or a people, they loom like a shadow. The consequences and aftershocks continue to reverberate long past the first decade, the second decade, the third, and into the very bones of the child yet unborn when they occurred. That next generation has to read about them, has to cobble the idea of memory together from a thousand scattered misremembered accounts, has to go on deciding what they mean and why they should still be remembered. Eventually those children grow up and go around with their recorders, now an easy app on a phone, trying to get people who don’t know what day it is now to remember what they did then.
What a comfort that God does not forget. That he doesn’t draw out his calendar on a slip of paper, but instead writes the name of the one he remembers on the palm of his hand.