Only So Many Days

As I write this, it’s Remembrance Day in Ottawa: a day of solemn services, quiet reflection, and a cutting wind even in the sunshine. Thanks to Facebook, I know that it’s also the birthday of a one-time work colleague and veteran. For him, today is presumably also a day of cake, lactose-free ice cream, and cheery greetings from friends.

“Wow,” I think. “That would be weird: having your birthday on Remembrance Day.”

And it got me to thinking. The only thing I associate with the day of my own blessed birth is a once-in-7-years coincidence with Mother’s Day. No statutory holidays. No national milestones. No memorial events. Family birthdays and anniversaries hit all around it like carnival balls missing the intended target, but nothing else lands on the actual day. *Did* anything else happen on May 14?

Well, it’s a happening world and has been for quite a while, and there are only so many days to go around every year. Not unreasonably, then, the answer is, “Quite a few things.” Here’s a small sample:

  • In 1576 the Dutch Council of State was replaced by the Council of Beroerten.
  • In 1643, a 4-year-old Louis XIV became King of France, which seems to me like an odd way of putting it. Was he really Louis XIV before he became king, or was he just, you know, Lou Junior?
  • In 1702, Swedish troops occupied Warsaw. I’m sure there’s more to this story.
  • In 1796, physician Edward Jenner administered the cowpox vaccine for smallpox, presumably for the first time, or the first time in big numbers.
  • In 1804, Lewis and Clark launched from St. Louis. I have a soft spot (or two) for Lewis and Clark.
  • In 1897, Great Britain signed a treaty with the then-Emperor of Abyssinia. I’m sure there’s more to this story, too.
  • In 1927, Ain’t She Sweet hit #1 on the singles chart. Coincidence? Hardly. Foreshadowing.
  • In 1928, John McGraw was hit by a taxicab and broke his leg. “Who is John McGraw?” you might ask. I did. Turns out he was a colourful baseball manager. As Wiki has it, during a bribery scandal no suspicion fell on him because:

…despite his violent reputation,
[McGraw] was believed to be honest.

  • In 1939, a 5-year-old in Peru became the world’s youngest confirmed mother, which is wrong on so many levels.
  • In 1948, Israel declared independence from Britain. That’s gone pretty smoothly I think.
  • In 1967, Mickey Mantle hit his 500th career home run.
  • In 1978, Upper Volta held the first round of their presidential elections. The site fails to note how many rounds they held. Who knows? Maybe Upper Voltans are still standing in voting queues.
  • In 1991, the World’s Largest Burrito was created (1,126 lbs).
  • In 2018, scientists reported the first successful memory transfer in snails.

In addition to the inexplicable gap for 1952, the year I appeared, a few points might strike you about this list. They did me.

  • Point 1 – Snails? Really?
  • Point 2 – Where the heck are Upper Volta and Abyssinia?
  • Point 3 – Why did so many more things happen in and after the 20th century than before?

But although Point 1 looks to be a lasting puzzle, and I could resolve Point 2 if I cared to, I think I know the answer to Point 3:

  • There are more of us all the time.
  • We have more entertainment and sports activities now than anytime before.
  • We have way more leisure time and technical capacity to keep track of stuff.
  • The things that list-makers list are the things they know/care about, which likely explains not just the relative currency of these items but also the inclusion of numerous baseball items and the omission of details related to those Swedes in Warsaw in 1702.

Even this small-sample example is a reminder that every day is weighted with a fair amount of historical baggage: I share my birthday with Dutch political history and baseball records and Lewis and Clark (hurray) and snail neurological experiments (as wrong as that sounds) and roughly 1/365th of all the activities and meaningful events and memories ever made on this planet. The recorded stuff I can find, but not the unrecorded:

  • On the family level, did my grandfather get on the train in Iowa, headed out to see his new homestead in southern Alberta for the first time?
  • On the cultural level, did someone lose the arrowhead that my mother found on that homestead some few thousand years after it was painstakingly chiseled into shape?
  • On the evolutionary level, did the dinosaurs look up to see a strange bright light streaking across the sky? “What the heck is that, George?” They can’t have known.

I can’t know the answers to my questions, either, but all those things and many more besides had to happen sometime, and there are only so many days to go around.

In the same way, today and every day is jammed full, holding roughly 1/365th of the world’s current activity on this particular transit of the sun: births, deaths, graduations, anniversaries, new jobs, injuries, car rides, car accidents, car breakdowns, first steps, welcome phone calls, unwelcome diagnoses, unexpected reprieves, hugs, slaps, concerts, statutory holidays, scientific breakthroughs, viral breakthroughs, new books, new pets, and walks in the park with or without said pet.

My colleague’s Remembrance-Day birthday is a reminder that everyone is in the world in their own way, even or especially in ways I rarely consider and can hardly imagine. And it’s a reminder that I share not just my birthday but every one of my days with a wonderful abundance of life and life events, big and small, that I rarely consider. An abundance that stretches out — and back — as far as I care to imagine.


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6 Responses to Only So Many Days

  1. My father’s birthday was November 11 and our oldest granddaughter’s birthday is November 11. After all, there are just so many days to go around but you lead me to wonder if birthdays are equally distributed among the available dates. In our family and in our youngest son’s family, the birthdays tend to be skewed towards November, December, January, which leads to the conclusion that spring is the season of fertility. I know that concept from literature, but is it substantiated in science?

  2. It happens every Sunday! Isabel touches off adventures in learning that could envelope the day and the week. Happy Birthday, Isabel, belatedly and everlastingly!

  3. John Whitman says:

    Isabel – thanks for your listing of some of the events that occurred on 14 May throughout the years. Lists like that remind me of why I have always been interested in history of all kinds. In my case it is wondering what happened in the past that got us to where we are today.

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