I stayed late at work today. I made math packets for the next week, photocopied two vocabulary lessons, and finished up the pile of grading that had taken over my desk. It was not that I was overcome with an excess of energy. Rather the opposite. We went on a field trip this morning, and no matter how successful the field trip (today was stellar) it is an exhausting activity. No, even ready to climb into bed, I stayed at work, making sure that I had everything done for tomorrow that I possibly could.
I know I will be terribly sad tomorrow.
Tomorrow is the one year anniversary of my friends’ daughters, Olivia and Emma, passing from this life into the eternal rest of the Lord.
In relation to large historical events, the day of is the most memorable. I will never forget where I was when I was first told of the events unfolding on the east coast the morning of September 11, 2001. In contrast, with the personal tragedies of the individual life, it is the day before that occupies the mind.
I know what I was doing a year ago tomorrow. I was staring at my phone constantly, waiting for an update that would ease my fear. I was crying and praying in the school chapel, screaming at God that he would not let the worst happen. I was taking in the news that two children I had held and played with and heard laugh were lost to their parents and family. I went to see The Lego Movie with my roommate, simply because I couldn’t understand that news. (I often go to the movies when someone dies. It allows me to take in the first few hours of grief in a setting where you are not supposed to talk.) I was standing with friends at 10 pm, smoking cigarettes in the parking lot in front of my apartment building, at a loss as to what to say, but unable to leave each other. I don’t need to think about it because it is a part of my heart.
But what was I doing a year ago today? I’m sure it was pretty much the same as today. I’m sure I was planning, and prepping, and grading, and bitching about small annoyances that I felt were insurmountable obstacles to my success and happiness as a human being. I’m sure I was frustrated with my students, and disappointed in myself, and generally irritated with life. What was I doing? How was I giving of myself? Where was I looking for God’s blessings? Why was I determined to be dissatisfied? When did I try to imagine the world beyond my own petty concerns and appreciate the gifts I can never repay?
Time and again, the prophets, apostles, Christ himself tells us to be prepared, you don’t know when your hour will come. I don’t worry about this. Maybe I should worry about this more, but for the most part, I can take it in stride that God will decide when I am ready, and my job is to do everything I can to be ready. I struggle with the fact that we cannot know when another’s time is at hand. It would never cross my mind to wonder, “Is today the day when a family of five becomes a family of three?” There will always be a day before; a day in which we live without fear of the day that will come, because we do not imagine what that day will be.
No matter what we are told, what we know to be true, what we have experienced before, Holy Thursday will always precede Good Friday. The two cannot be separated. A day before, that as years pass and time works upon our memory, becomes both a treasure of last moments of love and a veil of sorrow for missed opportunity. A day before that forms into a pattern of how we are to approach a day of death.
I cannot stop the pain that tomorrow will bring. But I have worked today to give myself the best chance of weathering it with as much dignity and charity as possible. Math lessons don’t make a tragedy any less of a tragedy, but a heart open to the mercy of God makes a tragedy a transformation.
(3 Years, 5 Months, and 27 Days Sober)