We all do it, in fact we cannot avoid doing it if we live online in any substantial way. We may even enjoy it; and I don’t mean in the manner of Cole Porter’s Let’s do it, let’s fall in love. I refer to the completion of online forms—registrations, applications, purchase agreements—most of which require us to share personal information including our birthdate.
Typically instead of asking me to type in my year of birth (1958 – I must scroll further down the list as each year passes) I are directed to a drop-down set of dates, some recent (i.e. 2021) and some more ancient (as far back as 1922 or earlier). Such selection systems are used to improve accuracy of input. I am convinced however they are meant to remind those of us in the riper years of life (an Anglican Prayer Book term) of our frailty, even mortality. Such teleological reflection may well remind us of our need to purchase stuff to stave off that which is mortally inevitable though denied by many. For me however, birth identification takes me down memory lane, so much so that I occasionally forget to complete the application process!
So what dates jump off the screen at me? Certainly, events in my own life. I could imagine writing an autobiography (strange term for sure – does it write itself?) based on my chronological observations. I remember moving to my present home, Kamloops (2016); I remember Richard (sadly now deceased) who worked for the University of Northern BC shortly before Y2K (2000) – remember thanks to Alan Greenspan the transition from the numbers 19 to 20 was going to crush and crash the electronic systems of the world. Didn’t happen, but Richard and others enjoyed tremendous job security in the late 1990s. I remember obtaining my first credit card (1980) and going to K-Mart in London Ontario to purchase my first piece of cookery. I remember the birthdays of my wife, Kathie (1961) and children (1989 and 1992). 1992 is also memorable for my brush with cancer and for the War in the Woods, the first environmental controversy in which I found myself directly engaged.
There is a risk with historical self-reflection. One could be consumed with the “what-if” questions which inevitably arise. Why did I go north as a missionary? What if I had never sought ordination and continued with music as a primary vocation? Why did I now buy more expensive camera equipment in 2005 when I commenced my digital journey?
In Willa Cather’s novel Death Comes For The Archbishop (1927) Cather tells the story of an elderly now palliative Archbishop (don’t worry Archbishop Lynne; not your time, yet) who had emigrated from the security and cultural richness of a French monastery to New Mexico in the 19th Century to plant churches in what was then an uncharted, frontier land. Bedridden, he speaks with a priest friend, of life and his present struggles, knowing that his “cold” might be mortal. His friend advises: “’Father . . . You should not be discouraged; one does not die of a cold.’ The old priest smiled. ‘I shall not die of a cold, my son. I shall die of having lived.’”
I am honestly glad that for all the missteps, confusions, quite a few regrets and many celebrations and affirmations, that I have, and continue to have lived. I know some who have not taken such a dare, such chances, such opportunities. While I do value safety, security and stability as a means to enjoy comfort and joy (remember the carol) these can be a boring and fanciful illusion, even dangerous if fed by fear of the unknown. T.S. Eliot writes in Burnt Norton, the first of the Four Quartets:
Only in a world of speculation.
Point to one end, which is always present.
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
As Parker Palmer describes in his invaluable short book Let Your Life Speak ways open and ways close. It takes courage, industry, determination, good fortune, sage advice and a supportive community, certainly for me, to open new doors most especially in these early days of retirement. As I now discover, others must likewise close. It’s an interesting dance right now.
All that admitted I shall continue to enjoy completing digital forms so I might enjoy the benefits of assorted opportunities. In times solitary and in the midst of life’s jumble, I continue to reflect on times both good and bad, and of people, places and situations. I remember: Arriving in the Yukon (1982); Musical studies in London, England (1977); Three African trips (2002; 2011; 2018); The École Polytechnique massacre (1989); Jack Layton and the NDP surge (2011); The day the music died (Buddy Holly, 1959);y discovery of the music of Stan Rogers (thanks to our good friend Jane McPhee, 1997 in Saskatoon) and of course, most important of all, the day Kathie and I joined ourselves to each other in marriage in Kamloops, April 25, 1987.
Enough from me, but I would love to hear some of your memorable dates in the WordPress or Facebook comments. So fill out those online forms people, and enjoy your trip down memory lane.