Bear with me here.
• On January 12, 1932, Hattie Caraway becomes the first woman elected to the US Senate.
• On February 7, 1497, followers of Savonarola burn art and books–even cosmetics–in what becomes known as the Bonfire of the Vanities.
• On March 23, 1857, the first elevator is installed at 488 Broadway, NYC (yes, designed and installed by Elisha Otis).
• On April 30, 1492, Christopher Columbus is given his commission of exploration by the crown of Spain, named “Admiral of the Ocean Sea” and viceroy and governor of any territory he discovers.
• On May 9, 1946, actress Candice Bergen is born.
• On June 19, 1865, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, news reaches the slaves of Galveston, Texas, that they are free (and have been for two years).
• On July 5, 1810, PT Barnum was born.
• On August 20, Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture debuted in Moscow.
• On September 11, 1609, Henry Hudson arrives on Manhattan Island.
• On October 28, 1818, Abigail Adams dies.
• On November 17, The crew of Japan Airlines Flight 1628 sight a UFO over Alaska.
• On December 15, 1161, After a military defeat, officers assassinate emperor Wanyan Liang of the Jin dynasty.
• And not to skip leap years: February 29, 1940: Hattie McDaniel becomes the first African-American to win an Academy Award, for her performance in Gone With the Wind.
There are 365 days in a year (okay, 366 every four years). And noteworthy things happened on all of them. Births, deaths, assassinations, political coups, technological triumphs, victories for humanity and victories for oppression. Books published, paintings finished, plays debuting, cathedrals built, sculptures completed.
My birthday is December 7, a date that Franklin Roosevelt cited as a Date that Will Live in Infamy. Growing up, I heard about this–the big jokes (“December 7: two bombs, Pearl Harbor and Madeleine,” because grade school kids are so clever and subtle). And I’m writing this on September 11, another day which will live in infamy. I have a friend who called me after 9/11 because it was his kids’ birthday, and he wanted to know how I’d coped with having a birthday on a problematical date. By the time he asked, December 7 had been gentled by time, but I did point out that there’s only so many days in a year. Good and bad things are going to happen on each of them.
I do not downplay the horror or the tragedy of either Pearl Harbor Day or 9/11, both of which led to war and more tragedy and horror. But it’s good to remember that in addition to those infamous events, there were also perfectly ordinary births and deaths and graduations and brisses and promotions and quinceaneras and baseball games and dance recitals and first steps and last breaths. So much life. I hope I can always remember the losses and the terror and the outrage of terrible events, never lose sight of the joys any day can bring.