Starting at birth, as we go through life, we begin to build up a library of significant dates in our lives. These anniversaries grow in number each year, and as we move through the world – growing physically, intellectually and emotionally – our relationships to these dates shift and change as well. When we are young, birthdays, especially our own, often evoke profound emotions of excitement. However, our relationship to this day changes as we grow older. In our teens, some of us eschew the attention, and as we get into our later years, it can become easier to think of a birthday as a reminder that we have one less year on this planet. Our station in life has a strong impact on our perspective of events.

Anniversaries can have both negative and positive connotations; or even both. Birthdays and wedding anniversaries are often moments to celebrate and reflect upon in positive ways. However, anniversaries can also be moments of difficulty like tragedies or deaths, that we approach in more somber and reflective ways. All anniversaries, both good and bad, are markers of time passing. These markers of time, like pins in a calendar, become fulcrums in a framework of comparison. They bring our awareness not only to the passage of time, but also to our emotional relationship to that time and place, and our perception of ourselves in relation to both other people and our expectations. Holding awareness of how powerfully our expectations affect us emotionally can give us a great deal more agency in terms of being able to respond to those emotions rather than simply react to them.

I’m thinking a lot about these issues this September because this month has started to gather more complex and significant anniversaries that resonate with me personally in various ways. Today, September 13, is my 23rd wedding anniversary. Yesterday was my twin brother’s fifth wedding anniversary. The day before that was the anniversary of September 11 terror attack in New York. My wife was three months pregnant with our first child on that day, and we were woken up by our cats jumping off of the bed when the first plane hit the tower, while our dog reacted by jumping on the bed. Two days before that this year, September 9, was the first anniversary of my mother’s death, and also my older sister’s birthday. That’s a lot to unpack emotionally in the space of 4 days.

The first anniversary of the death of a parent can bring up a lot of emotions. Some of us can be overwhelmed by these emotions, while others have trouble accessing them. Both things can be true at the same time as well, in that we may be overwhelmed with feelings but also be deeply confused by them and have trouble being present in the moment. We all have a myriad of experiences with their own emotions, as well as our own triumphs and tragedies. In general, I have some difficulty connecting to sadness, so I carved out a lot of time and space to make room for, and accept this anniversary. I did a lot of reflecting on my mother’s life and our relationship, and did what I could to connect to my grief. I spent some time thinking about the patterns of our relationship as well as the emotional resonance of that relationship that echo throughout my life.

Last year, when it wasn’t an anniversary, but instead the experience of her dying, it was quite overwhelming. In fact, I don’t recall noticing the anniversary of the terror attacks last year. However, this year 9/11 brought up thoughts and feelings related to how the impact of that moment has played out in our culture. On that day, as we left our house to go be with a friend whose husband was in the area of the attack, I picked up my camera but then quickly decided to leave it. I remember thinking, “I need to be present right now.” My relationship to picture taking was something that I was dealing with at the time and I kind of knew that my camera might get in the way of me being present for others. Later, I came to regret that decision because the events that unfolded were so overwhelming that it’s all a blur. I think having pictures might’ve helped to ground me more; to help me process some of the sense of terror that I felt that day. Since my wife was pregnant, I felt protective of her, but also felt a need to help others. At that point, the towers had not fallen and there was a sense that with so many injured people there would be a need for blood. So, I kissed hey wife and ran to downtown Brooklyn to donate blood. Hundreds of others had the same thought so it was clear I wasn’t needed. I got nervous about being separated, and it felt like other calamities might happen. There were rumors of other planes, and of subway bombers and truck bombers etc. As I rushed back to meet my wife, I encountered people streaming over the Manhattan Bridge, many covered with dust of the fallen towers. I wish I had pictures because it was so traumatizing I can barely imagine it now. My main memory is that the supermarket near the flow of people was bringing out all of their liquids to hand to people coming off the bridges as if it were an aid station in the NYC Marathon.

As I reflected on that day I thought about how much it led to the increasing militarization of policing, and how that in turn increased tension around protest, and then I thought about how that is playing out now with the increasing division in the country. Having witnessed a lot of this up close, this anniversary brought up a lot of feelings that challenged my sense of hope and possibility. As someone who has documented a lot of protest, the sense of powerlessness was strong.

The following day brought some very happy memories and associations. My brother’s wedding was joyous. I was the photographer, so I have a lot of images. I also formed a band with high school friends to perform at it. We continued to play together regularly until the pandemic and this has brought a lot of positives to my life. With the pandemic, we have not been able to play for 6 months, so I was made aware of how much it is affecting my experience of these events this year. There isn’t really a date to associate with the pandemic yet, and no national understanding or conversation about how to process the profound emotions of this moment. Instead, with the pandemic driving political divisions to even greater heights, this moment is more traumatizing, which affects how we are processing all kinds of different anniversaries in different ways.

The pandemic has made all of our lives more complicated, forcing us to pivot and change and adapt. I’m dictating this at six in the morning because I could not sleep after being woken up by my wife, who was stressed out, and then by my daughter who needed my wife to help her fall asleep at 4 AM because she was stressed out. At least when she woke me up, I was able to be the first one to wish her a happy anniversary. Anniversaries can help to ground us in time, but in times of chaos they can be confusing. The pandemic makes it difficult for us to travel, so I missed several weddings this month, and it made it hard for our family to gather in the way that we might’ve like to to celebrate my mother’s life.

Again, today is my 23rd anniversary. That’s a lot of life lived, a lot of joy and some difficult times as well. My wife and I had some ups and downs before finding the footing to get married. It was a tremendous day filled with friends and family. I have a lot of great memories of that occasion. On that day, we committed to love and honor each other forever. For 23 years we have worked hard to honor that commitment. We continue to make progress in expanding our connection and understanding of each other. Today is absolutely a cause for celebration, but also a day of reflection on the winding road of not only that relationship but the many connections and relationships it has spawned. Given the anniversary of my mother’s death, it’s been a difficult few days and I’m thankful for a partner in life, and work, who is supportive and as committed to progress and growth as I am. I’ll remember the 23rd as the Pandemic anniversary. Here’s to another 40 years.

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