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Marking time

winter trees boston pink sunset

Last week, as I do every year, I bought two wall calendars: an artsy, colorful one for my office, and a cute Peanuts one for our kitchen. My search bypassed dozens of chic, expensively letterpressed calendars, whose designs shunted the number grid to the side, or relegated it to a single line of numerals. Charming, perhaps, but only half-functional. I need a calendar I can write on.

For most of my childhood, my mom bought a wall calendar each year, often waiting until after Christmas when the calendars went on sale. She hung it on the inside of the pantry door, marking birthdays, appointments, school events, upcoming trips in her neat cursive. Anyone needing to know what day it was, or what was coming up, could open the door and see it: the hidden, but vital, nucleus of the way our family kept time.

When my sister and I were old enough, we got to pick out our own calendars every year. I remember sitting at the kitchen table, non-smudgy ballpoint pen in hand, flipping through the year and writing down birthdays. Mom first, in the last week of January. My sister, ten days after Mom. A grandmother, an aunt, a cousin or two. Dad’s birthday in August, and mine in the middle of September, followed by my grandfather, nine days later.

Imitating Mom, we thumbtacked our calendars to the inside of our closet doors, scribbling down our own reminders. As the years went on, I added the birthdays of my best friends: Jon, Adam, Mike, Shannon. Brittany, Lina, Stephen, Kate. I still remember all their birthdays.

I’m not much good at keeping up a planner, though every few months I try again in a burst of organizational intention. And I know life isn’t a calendar, as Jenna recently remarked. Some progress is measured in cycles, some in fits and starts, some in steps like a dance, which don’t “take” you anywhere but which mark time nevertheless. I usually choose a word for the year and I often make some resolutions, but it doesn’t mean the days are entirely linear, nor would I want them to be.

But I do rely on my two wall calendars. They hang quietly above my desk and above my kitchen counter, twin steady heartbeats, marking the progression of days and weeks and months, which somehow add up to years much faster than they used to. They give me a visual glance at the whole month, glimpses of what’s behind, what is here now, what’s ahead.

I mark time with my wristwatch, the clock on my computer, the progress of the sun in the sliver of sky outside my office window. My church observes seasons with still-new names: Advent, Epiphany, Lent, Pentecost. My senses take in the progress of sunshine and dusk, fallen leaves and snow crunching underfoot, tender new grass and full-blown summer flowers. I mark time with my closet, my meals, in the pages of my journal.

These stacks of paper, printed with numbers, are only one way of keeping time. And yet the old ritual anchors me, turning over a new page each month. A grid of fresh white space, vibrating with possibilities, sprinkled with a few reminders or events to look forward to. I don’t try to write everything down; I know I can’t. Most of what happens will fill itself in.

Do you keep a calendar or a planner? How do you mark time?

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