I am desperately grasping onto the halo of a vacation that took us to two of Europe’s most iconic cities: Florence and Paris. After having blogged every day in the month of July, I took the month of August off from writing and spent time observing, experiencing, and reading. We traveled with one laptop for a family of three and I quickly tired of the stress of reserving time or searching for an internet connection. I was content to squeeze in just enough time to upload my photos, opting to jot a few cryptic thoughts into a small notebook using traditional pen and paper. I remember having so many “aha!” moments that I was sure would fuel my writing when I returned, and now I wonder “where are they?”
I remember thinking about writing a post about Franco in Firenze who treated us to our first authentic dinner in Italy and gave my fifteen year-old daughter her first sip of champagne. I had a convoluted series of thoughts on “guilt” that sprang from getting reprimanded in the church of San Mineato al Monte and shooed out of the Montparnasse cemetery. I read five books along the way that were eerily linked in such unexpected and unplanned ways, and I imagined there was a great essay somewhere among those intersections. I imagined a piece entitled “French and Sensibility” as a play on the Jane Austen novel, as well as a comic piece about how many times does it take to circle the Duomo before admitting you are lost? Perhaps all these and more will still come to fruition over the next few weeks, but this week’s expectations are put aside.
This is the week that seventeen years ago I became a mother, a parent. Over the next twelve days I experienced a parent’s greatest exhilaration and greatest grief. I gave birth and held my daughter in amazement and held her again twelve days later as she took her last breath. That week changed who I was and how I face the world around me. Still seventeen years later, I find myself struggling in a tug-of-war between remembering and forgetting. When August 30th hits, I try to make the day positive in honor of my first born. I focus on being a good mother, a patient mother (something that does not come naturally). I keep the hint of tears in check; on this day I should only cry from happiness. I try to remember the day by forgetting the pain of what is to come. In the early years, my husband and I would make annual visits to the children’s hospital, spend time in the chapel, and write in the memory book. After several years, it was hard to look at the day as a celebration of a life lived, no matter how short, when you were staring at volumes of memories from parents that had lost a child, were in fear of losing a child, or were battling severe child illness and/or trauma. When we moved out of state, we stopped going; and when we came back we didn’t continue the visits.
These days, no one intentionally marks my first daughter’s birthday on the calendar, and there are no traditions that have lived on. A few of us still pass the day silently, remembering and forgetting at the same time. I think to myself that someday I should talk with my second daughter more about this day. I’ve attempted before but it always seemed to create an atmosphere of discomfort and awkwardness. I would tell her that the birth and death of my first daughter kindled a fierce need in me to be a mother. It made her birth so intentional, so necessary, and everyday she reminds me that parenthood is a gift (even on those hard days). My love for her is formidable because of our history. It will never be light, or casual, or relaxed, or uncomplicated, but it will always be unconditional and stronger than anything else I’ve ever put forward. My biggest fear is that she won’t remember my love at times she most needs it, and like the rest of us, she will forget. I see it in myself remembering my first week of motherhood like an impressionist painting, losing all detail, but retaining just enough to keep the memory alive. Yet, at the same time, I remember the US Open Tennis matches that were played on the television as I sat vacillating between grief and numbness. I remember who played, what they wore, and the match scores. On September 11, 1994, Andre Agassi won and Steffi Graf lost, and my daughter died. Nobody seemed to understand my elation when Andre and Steffi wound up together later in life. How could I explain why I felt that this celebrity marriage was a sign that the world going forward would be different and that the concrete results from 1994 didn’t define the future? I suspect it is all wrapped up in the part of me that remembers and forgets.
When I am forlorn and lost, I often forget to turn to the concrete love and support of those around me as a surefire anchor. So the age-old question is how do we make sure we remember the important things and forget the mundane? Or perhaps the mundane is important and then the question becomes how do we replace our faulty filter? I never was an owner of rose-colored glasses or owned anything with a silver lining, but even with all my remembering and forgetting, I have always protected a glimmer of hope. And that hope keeps me facing forward. I like to believe that just maybe, locked within our mundane memories is a sliver of hope waiting for a magnifying glass to align with the sun and set it aflame. That would make all the remembering and forgetting worth it.