Thursday, March 17, 2016


When I got a haircut in February, I scheduled an appointment for March.

“How about the 15th?” I asked the stylist.

“The Ides of March!” she said.

I came up for air on that one. Someone younger than I am—by over a decade—knows about the Ides of March?

About all I remembered about this date was a line from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: “Beware the Ides of March!” And it was good advice, because Caesar was slain by a large number of people on that date. (Maybe that’s where Agatha Christie got her idea for Murder on the Orient Express.)

Back to Ides of March. During the month following that appointment, my mind kept going back to our little conversational exchange about a date I figured almost no one remembered.

Besides Caesar, the other dire event for which March 15 was known to me was the date income taxes were due—this was before my time as a tax-paying citizen; we’ve had April 15th (or 17th this year) since, well, maybe forever.

[Now You Know: The first income taxes were due on March 1, 1913; changed to March 15 in 1918; and changed again to April 15 in 1955.]

I’ve been thinking about my Ides of March conversation lately—to us, the date Julius Caesar was put to death (in 44 BC) is not only ancient history, it doesn’t relate to life today. Or does it?

How about, for example, the way we view history now? I’ll give you some personal examples:

·       I feel no particular reaction to March 15, but around the third week of November I start feeling uneasy—I recall watching our young president get shot in Dallas.

·       School starts in August in my neck of the woods. The second week of September I honor those who died in the attack on the Twin Towers in NYC. I don’t have the same numb “no, no, that’s not really happening” feeling that I had that day in 2001 when I saw the disasters shown again and again and again on Internet news. No gut-wrenching horror. No, now there’s the felt but unvoiced certainty that our country can be invaded, can be attacked, our people (all kinds) can be wiped out as we watch it happening.

·       In many Christian churches, Palm Sunday begins on a triumphal note, but the service ends with the certain knowledge that there’s a bad time to come. Holy Week can be especially emotional for me—when I was an organist I could get through Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services by focusing on the music. This year I’m one of the characters in the Passion readings. It will all be happening again, for me.

History can be interesting. I’ve learned a lot of world history reading novels set in other times, far-off places.

Note, however: Novels may not depict what actually happened, but their stories are built around actual events. We can’t know, ever, the facts about an event—we always know it only by way of the particular lens through which it was viewed: a soldier, a nurse, a young mother, a business executive, a grandmother alone in the world, a school boy, a teenage girl planning her wedding. This is true of "eye-witness" accounts of current events, as well as what people thought and wrote about events in 1865 or 1066--any date you want to pick.

Equally true for me, history is always a personal thing. It ties me to events far outside my daily round.

For that reason, when my daily round included four children under six years of age, meals-meals-meals, diapers ad infinitum, Sunday School, choir, and occasionally sleeping a whole night through—when I lived that life, very little of the outside world crept in. There was simply no crack it could get through, and no place for it to light if it did.

I wrote letters to family members, eagerly read the ones I received. The kids and I made trips on foot to the branch library for books; I read mine while stirring pudding on the stove, and read theirs to them at bedtime. Letters and books gave me access to the outside world. Limited, true—but it kept me in the loop, so to speak.

I truly admire women who “do it all.” Even if I could have morphed into Wonder Woman (my childhood dream) I doubt if I’d have been happy. Yes, there was, or seemed to be, no leisure time for just being, just smelling the lilies of the valley that came up in the yard or watching the sun set on a summer day. Evenings, though, I put the kids to bed and sat at the piano to play while they drifted off—folk songs, show tunes, old-time songs (“Ben Bolt,” “Beautiful Dreamer”), hymns remembered from childhood. That was leisure time activity. By 10 PM I was ready for bed—right after I folded laundry, straightened the living room, put away the clean dishes, checked the fridge for milk, juice, fruit for the next day (though why, I won’t ever know; there was nothing I could do about it late at night in the early ‘60s).

But even deeper, I had too much fear, too much uncertainty about life, too much anxiety left over from my early years. These kept me near the edge of emotional collapse. Add four young children to the mix—what if she fell? What if he got a bad disease? Should I let her go to nursery school? Are they warm enough? Do they eat enough?

Relax? I never learned how.

Watching news on TV made it too, too real. In the newspaper events seemed milder, but still--. I began to feel guilty for not “doing something” to make life a better place for my children, for other people. Nowadays, we say we have too much on our plate. Then, we said we had no time.

I still relate to news of the world—it still makes me uneasy, though perhaps I’m less fearful. My church has an active outreach program where we’re doing something positive about feeding hungry people, and making blankets to keep them warm. We hold fundraisers to collect money to send to aid global needs.

Years later, as maturity catches up with me, I can view world events without feeling I have to do something big and grandiose. Or, maybe I’ve actually learned a couple of important things: (1) there’s always going to be something bad going on in the world; and (2) praying is doing something.

We may not be able to clean up the world and the messes we find there. But we can work on our little corner of it. That’s one way of staying connected.

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