On this day in 2014, three years ago, my brother died. He was killed by a drunk driver who also died in the crash.
On this day, here in the northern hemisphere, summer begins. And this particular year, today, my sixth grader is enjoying her last day of school before vacation.
On this day wonderful people were born – the husband of a beloved cousin, the son of a dear friend, other special friends.
On this day in 1967, my hometown of Columbia, Maryland was chartered and dedicated.
On June 21 nearly every year of my childhood that I can remember, I spent the day floating on the energy of the summer solstice, released from the responsibilities of the school year, welcoming the warm weather and light-filled evenings, and basking in the freedom of the summer as it rose up in front of me, gleaming.
However, in 2015, and 2016, and this year, and every future year that awaits me, June 21 commemorates the worst day of my life.
How can the source of my greatest grief be also the source of so much happiness? How can this day on which so much was taken from me be the day when Columbia, a place that gave me so much and continues to sustain me, was born? How can I understand the swirl of birth and death, of joy and pain, this day brings?
I try to sit with these questions. Rainier Maria Rilke comes to mind. He says:
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
Some people, events, or ideas arrive in our lives at random times. Some appear just once, while others come to us over and over, unpredictably. An event linked to a date, however, shows up in our paths on a regular basis. We know what it is and when it comes. We expect it. But we cannot necessarily predict how we will cope with it.
Each year of my life feels like a river flowing in an enormous loop. Each loop is unique, because things change as I float – the weather shifts, the water turns rough and then calms again, flora and fauna arrive and depart, my energy and mindset vary, my ability to navigate the water ebbs and flows, new rocks appear in my way, old rocks roll to the side. Some of the biggest rocks, though, arrive and stay. My brother’s death was as though a boulder crashed into the water directly in front of me. Because I had no time to prepare myself for the obstacle, I wiped out on it. I lay there in pain, struggling to breathe and move, until I could slip back into the river.
The next time June 21 came near, in 2015, I saw the boulder looming in the distance. I tried to plan how to negotiate it. I still collided with it. But this time I had the chance to try, and I did my best.
When a challenging rock appears every year, we have choices. We can strap on protective gear. We can swim differently as we come upon it. We can try to avoid it, roll around it, vault over it, make a stop and sit on it. Each time it looms, we can choose how to navigate it differently. We don't know how it will turn out. All we can know is that it will arrive, and we will do our best.
On this day, whatever the obstacles, we have the water all around, the source of life. The water carries us through both joy and pain. The water holds us as we hold the questions in our minds. On this day, on every day, we can try to keep swimming.