Honoring 'secret anniversaries' of the heart

While reading Sarah Ban Breathnach’s best-seller “Simple Abundance” years ago, I first encountered the term “secret anniversaries of the heart,” a line from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “Holidays.”

“The holiest of all holidays are those

Kept by ourselves in silence and apart;

The secret anniversaries of the heart ...”

The phrase struck me when I read it and is on my mind this week, even though the anniversaries of the heart I am celebrating are not particularly secret. I’m writing of the discovery of my birth family two years ago, something I’ve shared about in this space and elsewhere in the paper.

It all began on Sept. 18, 2020, when my half-sister Chris messaged me on 23andme, noting our shared genetic makeup and asking what I knew about my family history. The messages that followed turned into a two-hour phone conversation and then a three-hour in-person meeting two days later.

On Oct. 5, after she had talked to her father (who is actually our father, but that still sounds funny to me) and he had got in touch with my birth mother, I exchanged my first messages with my birth parents over Facebook.

That day seems both so long ago and as if it were just yesterday. Since that time, there have been trips to Florida and Maryland and visits here. In various groups we’ve cruised the Caribbean, watched Paul McCartney in concert and visited the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. We’ve exchanged birthday and Christmas and “Sisterversary” gifts. We’ve spent countless hours talking and texting and FaceTiming.

We have shared memories now, something we lacked in the early days of our relationship, especially before we had the chance to meet. And some of the stories we share on a phone call or around the kitchen table — when we are lucky enough to spend time together — are about each other.

And yet there are still so many stories I have yet to hear and others I’ve heard but have yet to commit to memory. I realized at some point over the past two years that the perpetual repetition of certain family stories, which can drive you nuts as a kid or teen, is what enables you to remember them. And so when one of my “new” family members says, “I don’t know if I’ve told you this ...” sometimes I’m not sure, either.

The years these stories were told and retold are years we will never make up, more than 53 of them for me and my birth parents and almost 44 for me and my sister.

At this time of year I also can’t help but think about other anniversaries that are not as pleasant. I lost my dad on a beautiful June day 20 years ago and my mom on an equally gorgeous November day in 2020, one day short of a month after the Facebook messages from my birth parents.

I wrote about ends and beginnings and the juxtaposition of joy and sorrow in a column shortly after my mom died. I included a favorite quote from Melody Beattie’s “Journey to the Heart” meditation book.

“All endings are inexorably tied to new beginnings. That’s the nature of the journey. It builds on itself. It can’t help from doing that. Cherish the moments. All of them.”

So that is what I try to do. Anniversaries of the heart, secret or otherwise, are important to recognize and honor. But we shouldn’t spend too much time staring into the past or anxiously awaiting the future.

True joy can only be experienced now, moment by moment.

— Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean. Readers can email her at [email protected].

Author Bio

Author photo

Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean