"How long has your Mom been in the hospital, Yvette?" My friend’s sollicitude melts my heart.
"She went in on the Feast of Christ the King—so about a week, thanks."
"Yvette, you’re the only person I know who measures her life by the liturgical calendar."
Deciphering my professional calendar synched to my email as I anticipate the coming week, I recall the conversation that jarred me a few years ago. He was probably right. As the music coordinator for my parish, the seasons of the liturgial year occupy a good deal of my byte space. Months ahead, I choose a few hymns to rehearse and add to the parish’s repertoire. Ask me about the Easter season, the feast of Ascension, Pentecost, and the Body and Blood of Christ. I could obliterate a Jeopardy category named Liturgical Calendar.
What does that say about me? In fact, what do the calendars we juggle like so many colored balls reveal about ourselves and our lives? Mulling over this as I close the email, I start to wonder about the other calendars that have oriented my life over the years.
What about the original calendar, my body’s calendar? The rhythm of birth, puberty, childbirth, menopause, and death. I remember Margaret Laurence reflecting on it through Hagar Shipley in The Stone Angel:
"Do you get used to life?" she says. "Can you answer me that? It all comes as a surprise. You get your first period, and you're amazed — / can have babies now — such a thing! When the children come, you think — Is it mine? Did it come out of me? Who could believe it? When you can't have them any more, what a shock — It's finished — so soon?"
Living what a neighbor aptly described the other day as “the third period with five minutes remaining,” I am caught up in this primal calendar, like everyone, ever. Often, I feel like the first two periods and fifteen minutes belonged to someone else I can hardly recognize now. Although she looked a lot like me, and wore her hair in much the same way, she worried more, and kept one eye trained on the clock. She was far more concerned about work. She had many more threads to keep from getting hopelessly tangled. She slept less.
When I was a child, the most important calendar was the farming calendar: seeding, spraying, summer fallow, harvest, and winter. All phases involved frequent staring at the sky. Was it cloudy? This was a good thing if we needed rain, and always a bad thing during harvest. Was it sunny? Great news during harvest, but discouraging during a summer drought. This is the calendar of someone whose destiny is tied to the land, and who is all too conscious of its caprice.
For more than fifty years, my life has been governed by the school calendar. The student cycle began at the end of August and continued through the end of June. The teacher cycle began in mid-August, with a few hours of school set-up each day until the first official day back. At that moment, I stepped on the treadmill and didn’t get off until the last report card was handed out at the end of June, and, in the early days, the register balanced (Remember that, teachers?). Add unwinding, and we’re into the second week of July.
When I had a baby, I realized that newborns and toddlers have a calendar imposed on them. They are six months of age, or fifteen months of age, or twenty-three months of age. They are never a little over a year, or almost two, or two and a half. They are thirty months. People are doing the math in their heads. Okay, what are the multiples of twelve again? I always longed to tell someone that my five and a half year old was sixty-six months old. I could always visualize the far-away look of eyes rolled up a bit, scanning the mental calculator, lips quivering in support, hoping to come up with an approximation, at the very least, in time to nod in understanding.
By comparison, the calendar year seems almost irrelevant. After the frenzy of the Christmas season, the official calendar year ends on New Year's Eve, an apt climax to the ebb and flow of a series of months, but an end to nothing in particular. The government, in a perverse gambit to keep people on their toes, runs its calendar year April 1 to March 31, culminating in an accounting frenzy all its own.
Against the backdrop of the calendar year, the significant calendars sum up my life, a life connected to farming, schools, children, and churches. A life in four words. A life spent close to the land, learning, love, and liturgy. A life in communities, relationships, values, and ideals. A life played out in the counterpoint of human demarcations and natural rhythms.