Marking Time – Anniversaries
For those of you who know me you may be aware that this week, on Thursday 21st November in fact, it will be five years since Tricia died. (For more recent readers, you may not know that Tricia was my first wife, who died suddenly of DVT – Deep Vein Thrombosis – having broken her ankle just a couple of weeks previously, after slipping off only the third step of our stairs at home.)
This week also sees the 50th anniversary of the death of John F Kennedy. I was in my teens when I heard the news just before going out to my youth club on the Friday evening. (It would be nearly another year before I actually met Tricia at that same youth club for the first time, although she always said she had a vague memory of me – “fat boy with long trousers and spectacles” is how she phrased this vague memory of me at our junior school, though it always struck me as inaccurate of course!)
Inevitably, the close juxtaposition of these anniversaries set me thinking about marking time and, indeed, about time itself. About death, too, and its ability to “fix” a point of time in one’s mind. And about how the passing of time can often seem such a personal thing despite the apparent “measurability” of objective time.
We must all be aware of at least some aphorisms (aphorism – “a pithy observation which contains a general truth”) about time…
Time passes quickly when you are having fun/ are busy
Time passes slowly when you are waiting for a train/bus
Time and tide wait for no man
Indeed, it was referring to one such aphorism that Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, mother of JFK, made the following comment…
“It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’- I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.”
Rose Kennedy herself lost four of her own nine children in her own lifetime (two were assassinated), and several grandchildren too, so it is clear she knew firsthand whereof she spoke. And I find, from my own personal experience that she was correct. I am not, however, quite sure that ‘…the pain lessens’? It is true to say the pain loses its intensity, but perhaps that amounts to the same thing. I know the immediate pain was an actual, visceral, physical pain – I likened it at the time to ‘someone reaching down my throat, grabbing my heart and just ripping it out’.
It is also true to say that the ‘scar tissue’ can sometimes prove to be remarkably thin and broken by the slightest of recollections. A song, a taste, a sound can each penetrate such scar tissue. For me, perhaps, the most likely cause of scar breakage is counter-intuitive. It is the remarkable capacity of humanity and human nature for compassion, whether on the news, about typhoons, tsunamis or tornados, or fictionalized on film – bring out the tissues! The extraordinary thing is that, whichever of one’s various scars (and at my age now, one has quite a few!) is first breached, they ALL hurt!
For example, Fatima and I were just recently in New York and it happened to be whilst the NY marathon was on and, indeed, we happened to go into Manhattan on marathon day. The subway we were travelling on crossed the path of the marathon, which started on Staten Island and went up through Brooklyn and Queens before crossing 59th Street Bridge into Manhattan itself to finish in Central Park. At one stop a number of marathon runners’ families clambered aboard our train with “clapper balloons” and home-drawn signs which said “Go Dad” or “Go Mom – you’re awesome!” (see what I mean – my eyes are misting up just typing this little recollection!!)
We joined the flow of humanity towards Central Park – delightful leaf colours at this time of year by the way – coming upon 59th Street, which was cordoned off for the arriving runners who were heading to Columbus Circle and thence into the Park. The flow of runners finishing just kept on coming: a couple holding hands as they ran; a group of NY firemen getting cheers along the way; young folk checking their times just 800 yards from the finish; a group of ladies all dressed in pink; quite a few guys older than me (at least they looked older – whether they had been at the start of the marathon I cannot tell you!) One guy had clearly been bouncing a basketball all the way; a few folk were walking a little way along 59th and then beginning to run as they neared Columbus circle, determined to finish in style by running in the last 800 yards.
As they all turned in towards the park, a static camera picked them all up and showed them to themselves and the rest of us on a huge screen. Various bands and recorded music accompanied them along 59th Street and a couple, or more, broadcasting commentators or celebrities were continually welcoming them to this final way-point before the finish. “Well done, keep going, nearly there now, only 800 yards to go…” and so on. Most of the runners, it seemed, were not running simply for themselves. They were running to raise money to combat cancer, to record the life of a loved one, in memory of fallen colleagues or for ‘something’ or ‘someone’.
They were remembering, marking time (or times), recalling anniversaries, loved ones and so forth. We all do it – it is part of what humanity is – it is part of what ‘living’ is. Remembering our past and looking forward to a better future.
Also, whilst we were in New York, we took the opportunity to go to the 9/11 memorial. Fatima wanted to see it as part of her first visit to New York and, for me, it represented a memory of a previous visit to the city with Tricia and friends Joan and Mike – when we all went to the top of the World Trade Centre. Some of the people we met (in the shop at the top, for example) must have perished along with their colleagues as the towers collapsed.
There were long queues to get into the memorial, as there were, inevitably, security checks on the way in. Once inside the 16-acre site, the queues spread out and wandered amongst the trees, each one newly planted and maintained (someone said at a cost of $10,000 each per tree, per year?) – except for the “survivor tree”, which remained standing, somehow, after the devastating collapse.
The former presence of each tower is now marked by a very deeply-set square pond, exactly on the footprint of the tower. Water is drawn from the pond, pumped up, and falls as a continuous wall of water from inside each edge of the retaining walls. The continuous susurration evokes, for me anyway, the collapsing towers.
A granite ledge surrounds each pool and on the granite is recorded the name of every victim of the atrocity. Along one ledge, the names are all of fire crews and officials whose task it is always to run INTO the dangerous situation from which everyone else is trying to escape. And I remember a news picture, from the time, of one particular fireman running UP the stairs of the tower as others were, of course, running down. It seemed to capture, for all time, the compassion and selflessness of humanity at its best. Well worthy of remembrance, anniversaries and the marking of time.
I guarantee pretty well everyone of my age and above, at least in the western hemisphere, perhaps in the eastern hemisphere, too, will know exactly what they were doing on November 22nd, 1963 and September 11th, 2001 when we all heard about JFK’s assassination and the Twin Towers terror. To remember is to affirm we were alive and that we are essentially one people, one humanity. To mark time and recall anniversaries is also to reaffirm that we are still part of the living world.
As well as the public remembrance, we, all of us, have our own private remembrances, too, which is how this ‘post’ started out, of course. It is difficult for me to believe that five years have passed since Tricia died so suddenly and, for Fatima, how just a little over five years has passed since her previous husband Edward, died after quite a long illness. We each have our own memories and recollections and perhaps a record on the radio will cause Fatima to go quiet or, if there is a compassionate moment in a film, she will look over at me to check for glistening eyes!
But the truth is that amongst life, all of humanity has to deal with death and dying on a regular basis, more so, of course as one gets older and one’s closer contemporaries start disappearing. A close neighbour here, in Brazil, died just this last week. The law here is that the burial has to take place within 24 hours, so attending a funeral here is a very abrupt thing. It was very, very, hot that day (which explains the legal situation of course!) and the event was, naturally, very personal to the family and friends.
But it was one death amongst an average of nearly 152,000 deaths, worldwide, that DAY. That gives a total of about 55.3 million every year. So, in the fifty years since John F Kennedy died, about 2.75 BILLION people have died (perhaps only 2.5 billion, allowing for the overall growth in population during that time from a rather smaller total population then), the great majority leaving at least a close family with sad, and happy, memories of their loved ones.
And, so, we remember the passing of the famous and influential, or the memory of those killed in highly memorable circumstances, such as the Twin Towers or the Boxing Day Tsunami. And we need to mark the passing of time of our own loved ones too, however conflated time may seem to each of us – five years was a mere blink away, despite all that has happened in between. And Tricia would have been SO proud of the fact my story has been told and my novel finally published as, indeed Fatima is proud too.
And, yet, indeed, sometimes even fifty years seems only a blink away when we recall exactly where we were and what we were doing on that fateful day in 1963, or, actually, on any other fateful day since. Perhaps it is the act of marking time that really makes us human? We have also to remember, for our own sanity most of the time, however, that we do still live in the land of the living and that we can and must go on living – if only to honour the happy memories of those we have left on the way.
Let me close this post with another quotation from Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy…
“Birds sing after a storm; why shouldn’t people feel as free to delight in whatever sunlight remains to them?”
A soothing, if bitter-sweet, comment, perhaps, on making the best of things after tragedy and sadness! Let us all delight in life, as and when we can – remembering, too, the smiles and laughter of those who have gone before. Enjoy the sunlight.
For more about Rose Kennedy go to:- http://www.jfklibrary.org/JFK/The-Kennedy-Family/Rose-Fitzgerald-Kennedy.aspx
For more aphorisms about ‘time’ go to:- http://www.aphorism4all.com/by_theme.php?th_id=208
Keith, I remember receiving your letter when Tricia died, and it filled us with great sadness, but I also have fond memories of you both and the Youth Club. Life has been very kind to you now that you have found Fatima and happiness. Love Liz xx