There’s been a lot of talk this month about anniversaries. No, not the heartwarming kind. Quite the opposite.
Sometime this month is the day when, one year prior, all of this began. The day you took your plants home from the office, just in case. The day the school closed, hopefully for only a couple weeks. The day you went to work with new fear. The day it hit your life.
We’re familiar with annual holidays. Our calendars, Gregorian or otherwise, are populated by events that come around again and again, year after year. Same season, same sensations.
And isn’t it strange when that’s messed with? You’re accustomed to New England winter on Christmas, but one year take a trip and spend the holiday in the tropics. Sandals and sunblock instead of fireplaces and fuzzy pajamas. Warm not cold, humid not dry: this isn’t how your body is used to feeling on that day, with its long history of sensory association. Weird. Just goes to show how much environmental cues orient us.
This is how event anniversaries work.
The time we began or ended something, gained or lost something, joined or left something, arrived or exited somewhere. The time we experienced a rapid change, a traumatic experience, a spectacular blessing. The time we arrived somewhere we had long strived to reach, or learned we never would.
These events become encoded in time. In calendars and in body clocks. The day holds meaning, structuring the relationship between past and present. And when that time of year rolls around again, those thoughts and feelings can reawaken.
It can feel almost like being back there. As if that moment never ended.
That’s because some parts of the brain don't care about time. There’s a timelessness to certain memories, certain feelings. When you find yourself in that same time of year again, same month and day, same environmental cues, part of the mind knows this place, as if on a map. We can remember things with intensity, as if they just happened yesterday, though decades may have passed.
This won’t be the same for everyone. A lot of factors will determine how a moment lives with you as time goes by. When it comes to the pandemic, we may all have been in the same storm, but we were in very different boats. For many, this March won’t feel like an anniversary yet at all. Relief is coming to some of us much sooner than others.
But chances are, no matter the boat, we'll probably remember the pandemic a bit more around this time of year, when it got its hold on the world.
There is so much to make sense of in what we’ve been through. It won’t all happen now. Year after year, we will spiral back to these memories. And with another revolution around the sun under our belts, with another year of age in the books, another year of distance from the moment of impact, we will make a little more meaning.
Thinking of marking an event anniversary? Things to consider:
Remember how it was: It’s healthy to spend some time reflecting on other times and places in our lives. As we learn and grow, we come into new perspectives, opening up new possibilities for making meaning of our experiences. What can you see now, from here? What was it like back then? (*Trauma reminder: therapists exist, if needed.)
Notice what’s changed: And yet, now things are different. An important part of marking the passage of time is marking change. Things have evolved since then, perhaps in more ways than your daily life would have you believe. Think about that time, and look around now. How have things developed since then? How have you grown?
Meet the unmet: In our memories, we will often find needs we had back then that weren’t met. One of the most meaningful ways to mark time is honoring those needs now. Spent a year too alone? Commemorate that in community. Couldn’t make sense of things then? Write all about it now. Needed comforts that were unavailable? Reach for those things, delivering them to that part of you that went without. It’s never too late.
Bring the inside outside: Storytelling is a core human bonding behavior. What inside of you longs to be told from that time? Lots of people are reflecting these as-of-yet unshared aspects of their pandemic reality in posts on social media, where we (for better and worse) do a lot of communal narrative-weaving these days. But you don't have to share publicly to make storytelling meaningful: sharing with close others, or with yourself, in your modality of choice, can be just as meaningful.
Make it tangible: Traditions the world over have physical ways to mark occasions which carry ritual meaning. Whether you light a candle, jump into a lake, make or eat certain foods, or anything else you come up with, find a way to turn the abstract emotional into the concrete and tangible. Doing so changes the state of those feelings, opening a new angle on metabolizing them. And, you can repeat this the next year, layering meaning to objects or activities over time.
How might you mark your pandemicaversary in years to come?