The anniversary has come and gone again; the anniversary of the day that became a hinge, when time bent into before and after; the anniversary of another day about which the sentence always starts, “I remember exactly where I was.” And I do. We all do.
What I remember is being in Sky Valley with my mother, aunts and cousins on a long-awaited girls’ trip. What I remember is getting up and breathing cool mountain air, sitting on a second-floor porch with a view that rolled out in waves of all the different Crayola greens until it met the sky. What I remember is all of us laughing and talking over each other as we piled into the minivan to drive to Highlands and stopping at the pro shop for JJ to buy Gregg a shirt. What I remember is JJ walking out with a bag in her hand and an inscrutable look on her face and words tumbling out so fast that it took all of us a couple of minutes to understand what she’d just seen on the television.
There are other hinges: the day in November 1963 when our second-grade classroom work was interrupted by a sudden squawk from the brown intercom box at the corner of the blackboard and the crackly voice of an AM radio announcer saying simply, “The president has been shot”; the night in September 1972 when my exuberant monopolization of the family television for the purpose of not missing one single stroke of Mark Spitz’s run at seven gold medals turned into a hollow-eyed vigil as Jim McKay, growing older by the moment in his yellow blazer, tolled the growing number of deaths in the massacre of athletes at the Munich Olympics; the morning in January 1986 when I drove into the carpool line at First Methodist Preschool to pick up Adam and his teacher could tell, because I was smiling and chattering away, that I’d not heard about the Challenger, how it had exploded into the bright blue Florida sky, how all those smiling, waving astronauts, including the teacher, were simply gone.
And other hinges: the non-historical ones; the ones that won’t be found on a Wikipedia timeline; the ones that bent and crimped and creased time for no one but me; the days that started out like every other day and took detours I would never have expected or imagined.
We learn about time in units and, therefore, tend to see it as linear. One day follows another, one year comes after another. We say things like, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression” and “You can’t unring the bell.”
Hinges and our remembrances of them teach us that we aren’t just marching forward in a straight line. We, as a species and as individuals, are actually spiraling, coming back again and again to the same points — the same people, places and experiences, over and over, just on higher or lower levels — because there is still knowledge there to be gained.
It is why, despite the universal desire for peace, there is still war. It is why, despite all we know about the things that cause illness and disease, there are still people bringing about their deaths by their own behavior. But it is also why Diana Nyad kept trying until, at age 64 and after failing four times, she swam from Cuba to Key West.
“We will never forget” — the unofficial slogan of 9-11 remembrances. There is, though, a belligerence, a harshness, a quarrelsomeness to the statement that makes me recoil. I’d rather that we always remember. I’d rather that we lean into the bends in time, the creases in our days, that we absorb them all so that, the next time around, we are full and strong and maybe, just maybe, ready to learn.