25 September, 2013

Five Remarkable Days

I had asked one of my daughters for permission to use a photograph of hers for {this moment} 2, and when I asked her what she remembered about the day of the photograph, she characterized it as one of the five best days of her life. In another email she was able to tell me what the other four were. She had clearly given this some serious thought. It reminds me of the scene in The Way We Were in which old friends identify their best day together or best week or best year or best anything as a way of reminiscing.

It seems to me a worthwhile exercise and a way to take stock of one's life so far. Are your best ever days reflective of what you hoped would be important to you? Although I have a third of a century more than my daughter to parse, I'm thinking that probably makes it easier. Four of my five are about family, and one is professional. I'm content with that.

Here they are in no particular order.

1. September 23, 1981: birth of my first child, a daughter - in fact, the one I mention above. A bit of this is described in the post referenced below, and I remember it as if it were yesterday. Because the birth was a C-section, I held and rocked my daughter long before my wife. Oh, my - there just aren't words for that emotion.

I also remember making all of the phone calls from a phone booth! Remember those days with no cell phones? Part of our pre-delivery preparation was to be sure I had enough coins to call everyone with the news and to share the name we had selected for a girl.

2. May 2, 1983: birth of my second child, also a daughter. I recently described this experience in In Need Of A Better View.

3. May 19, 2002: commencement at the University of Virginia. This was my older daughter's graduation, but that was only part of joy. I had missed my own UVa graduation 32 years earlier as I recovered from a serious illness. My wife - unbeknownst to me - had written the president of UVa, shared my story, and asked if I (as a professor and former college president) might march down the Lawn with my daughter.

He did her one better. I marched, but only after exiting the Rotunda with the platform party and walking the full length of the Lawn with the VIPs. It was a good day, and I shall never forget what my wife arranged for me nor will I forget the kindness of President Casteen.

4. Multiple unspecified dates: any of those days when former students return to the college after 10 or 20 or even 30 or more years and tell me I made a difference in their lives. What more can I ask for. It is, after all, why professors do what professors do. In my email signature I often use a quote from William James. "The best use of life is to spend it for something that outlasts life." If James be right, those students are telling me I've made good use of life. Nice.

5. November 18, 1977: first date with my wife. For a couple of months I had been pestering a mutual friend to introduce us. He was not sure she was "ready to date" having lost her husband to cancer the previous December. We were finally introduced and began to date.

We were several dates into a budding romance when I learned what kind of cancer had taken her husband. My heart sank upon hearing it was Hodgkin's Lymphoma. I knew I had no choice, but how was I going to tell her that I was only four years out from my last treatment for the same illness. It may have been the hardest conversation I ever had, but I told her I would understand if she wanted to stop seeing me. To her credit, she didn't run away, and the rest, as they say, is history.

6. Six? - but that's cheating, you say. I suppose, but I'm not really going to list anything here. I just wanted to acknowledge that is no shortage of special people and special moments in my life - some that were incredibly powerful and moving. Glorious and vivid. I am blessed.

Take me on a trip - what are your five best days?