The holiest of all holidays are those
kept by ourselves in silence and apart,
the secret anniversaries of the heart…
-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
“There are days of oldness, and then one gets young again,” the writer Katharine Butler Hathaway observed in 1930. “It goes backward and forward, not in one direction.” She was musing I think, not about the circuitous passage of time, but of memory.
June is the month of secret anniversaries of the heart for me. (I wrote about them on June 15th in Simple Abundance.) Many June memories involved summer pastimes I enjoyed as a little girl— summer theater performed on the patio while the grown-ups sipped their cocktails, the tinkling of the ice cubes along with the applause; pony rides, the splash of water at a pool or the gleeful dash through the sprinkler on the lawn. Followed in rapid succession by the indelible memories of June with my own little girl. Midsummer’s Night Eve and preparing a tea party for the fairies; then the excitement of running into the backyard the next morning and finding presents suspended in colorful netting and ribbons.
This week I was doing errands and passed a large middle school where all the families were having their own picnics in small clusters of happiness. Suddenly, a big sigh of recognition emerged from my heart: “O look, it’s the end of year picnic. I always loved the end of school picnics.” In a moment I was back in Takoma Park, picking up the best tuna sandwiches in the whole world, brownies and mini fruit tarts at “Everyday Gourmet” to take to the Washington Waldorf School for the last day of school and our collective summer picnic on the playing field.
Secret anniversaries often reveal in mystical ways, our place in the world and our sacred connections. They can be joyful or sad or, surprisingly, both at the same time; major turning points or minor epiphanies. You might remember the day you got your first position after years of study, received a special love letter or sent your child off for his first overnight camp, as suddenly a sentimental potpourri of fresh air, pine needles, calamine lotion, roasted marshmallows and ghost stories around a blazing campfire overtakes you as you fold his beloved but ratty T-shirts from the dryer. He’s 30 now and just came for a visit, so where did that swoosh of memory come from?
Or you might recall a painful loss you can’t share with others; the due date of a baby who was never born, a long-standing breech with a friend; or a precious pet’s passing. The way the garden withered on the vine when your husband of thirty years told you casually one night, as you prepared his drink, that there was someone else taking over your position. Sometimes it takes long years to recognize the importance of such secret anniversaries—or to even know that you have one to acknowledge or commemorate with a silent pause and prayer, so that the past can move on with dignity. The Past asks only to be remembered. The Past wants us to move on more than the Present can ever imagine, because until it does, we can’t have the Future that’s waiting to unfold. The sacred contract and prime directive of the Past is to get you to your Future.
Our senses are the conduits of these soul memories. The song does remember when, as do the lilacs that bloomed every spring on your mother’s dressing table among the crystal bottles of fragrance and the soft light behind billowing organza curtains; the old baseball glove; the sheer ecstasy of the outside shower at your best friend’s beach house in Rehoboth Beach; Nana’s potato salad and the sour cherry pie from the farmer’s market. The cat collar, his favorite blanket, the fossilized Binky in the kitchen junk drawer along with the corn cob pigs, the random Christmas ornament found behind the couch. These things matter—they are the soul’s touchstones of truth; memento mori (translated from the Latin “Remember that you will Die” but more importantly, “Remember to Live.”) Babe, it’s taken me my entire life to understand that we can’t receive the blessing or the bounty if we’re not willing to acknowledge the benediction hidden behind every letting go. If I can cut you a little slack from the cosmic curriculum to speed your journey, please tag along.
Our senses are spiritual code breakers ready to reveal what’s been pushed down or hidden from view as we stumble through our days; exhausted by the frenetic pace and sheer expense of time, exertion, creative energy and emotion required to just make it through our daily round. Technology has run roughshod over our lives. Which do we pay attention to first; the text, the call we’re on or the one on call waiting? Maybe it’s the email or the beep from our new smart watch. Each encounter brings with it a sense of false urgency. Yes, I realize that instant communication is a critical component in our world and change is life’s only constant. But secret anniversaries of the heart are ancient, primal pathways sent to lead us to make connections more powerful than we can even imagine. There’s a TED talk waiting to happen.
Sometimes we dismiss the tugs of recollection as sentimental, unpractical or unimportant. Unruly. You might be blindsided by the green bud that astonishingly sprouts on a dead rosebush you began watering “just to see” what might happen. We often confuse the dormant with the dead; we’d like to be rid of painful memories and “move on” before the memories are ready to bid us adieu and depart on their own. But honoring the personal passages that altered the trajectory of our lives (especially if we are the only one who does remember) is how we grow, change and eventually heal. We find the strength to continue on our journey to Wholeness with morsels of our soul’s manna: remembrance.
As Amy Tan suggests in her novel The Joy Luck Club, “I can never remember things I didn’t understand in the first place.” Perhaps this is true for all of us and our secret anniversaries of the heart are meant to be our spiritual go-between, messengers of understanding sent to nudge us two steps back so that we’re at the right time and the right place for the next giant leap forward.
Sending dearest love and always, blessings on your courage. XO SBB
PS - The photographs for this musing are from my collection of an English woman’s life from the turn of the century through 1950. Her name was Iseult and she always referred to herself as “Self”, which poignantly moves me because women never put themselves into the complete picture of their own lives, so it would seem. But her beautiful smile and joie de vivre express the “authentic self” perfectly for me and remains a source of continuing inspiration. I hope you enjoy her happiness as a reminder to gently get yourself back into your own life!