The September in the photo looks bare and clean compared to most I’ve known. Usually, the notes are bleeding all over the edges of those neat squares. Things are crossed-off, re-inserted… It’s a mess.
Big ugly felt marker
Those blue lines? I used to do that. I did that until heavy diagonal lines crossed off the whole, and the sheet of paper was crumpled into the garbage. Then up went the next, October, on the fridge, with another set of growing and ugly lines.
It gave a sense of accomplishment, I liked to think. I had lived those days. I had done all I was supposed to. Sometimes I didn’t do all, but still… I’d made it. Through.
Twice in my life I have lived this way. The first time was when I was pregnant, working 2.5 days a week, and studying in an intense history honors program with six courses. I could not opt out of one course, because it would mean leaving the program. I could not NOT work, because I had debt. I had been self-employed for years so was not eligible for maternity pay; I needed to save as much as possible. I marked off the days, waiting for the school year to be over, and the baby to show up. The due date was the day after the last day of term.
Three weeks early
But the baby surprised me — he still does! — and showed up three weeks early. I do believe he’d had enough of all this. The lines were forgotten. Everything slowed. One paper went unwritten. A prof asked when it was showing up, and I told him it wasn’t. My work, to that date, had been enough to pass with a decent grade in spite of the missing paper. It was not an easy birth — by birth standards — and I stayed close to home for weeks afterward. Life ground to a slowed pace.
The second time
Was when I was immersed in a Bachelor of Education program, parenting three children, trying to keep my writing career in motion, and maintaining a household. I thought I was going to go mad. Education programs do not appreciate “mature” students, and will not make efforts to accommodate — at least, not in Canada. I found myself slashing a pen — red, of course — across days with an energy that appalled me. Another day DONE. Yes!
That moment, each evening, felt like a victory.
One evening, I pulled the cap off the pen…and stopped. This just felt not right.
I promised myself I would never live like that again; I would not cross off another day. I looked at those squares, the crossed off, and the clean, and thought about how each day is its own. A time to live, to build memories, an opportunity to build soul. A day cannot be dismissed.
Life got really complicated. My spouse was diagnosed with a rapid form of ALS. Every day was about trying to hold it together on every level, researching, dealing with appointments, negotiating growing up offspring, learning about grief…
The calendar page on the fridge was scary-looking. One day I found myself reaching for the felt pen. Maybe the line I would create would serve to give me a sense of some control.
And stopped. I was suddenly aware — even more so than before — of days being about life, living, and dying. How precious each was. How my notes — those I did need! — reflected living. I could write in other notes, not just about what needed to be done. But about what I’d seen or thought or felt. Or I could just appreciate the time, the sense of having lived, and living, whenever I caught sight of that page.
The control or reward I was looking for occurred a couple of months later, in its own strange and wonderful way: I realized I had gone “off calendar.” That is, one month had become the next, and I’d utterly neglected to print up the next page. I was moving forward, day to day, without this odd map of sorts. Just living. Being.
I do still need a calendar for the most part. Especially once September rolls around.
But I have not crossed off a day since. Never again.
Previously published on “Change Becomes You”, a Medium publication.
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Photo credit: Author