Anniversaries are nice, unless you forget one. Recognizing events of the past helps to gather our culture’s collective memories we choose to keep alive and pass on to our progeny. September was an unusually rich month for commemorations, perhaps because autumn is a season for clearing the fields and preparing to start anew. While we are no longer an agrarian society, the residual patterns of our ancestors are still with us. One prime example is the annual school calendar that is based on harvest time.
This fall, the Alabama Humanities Foundation celebrates 35 years of serving the people of Alabama. Coincidentally, there are other anniversaries to note, some pleasant and others not so pleasant. For example, 35 years ago, Garrison Keillor broadcast the first presentation of Prairie Home Companion. I emailed Mr. Keillor to advise him of our shared anniversary commemorations and asked if he would email the board of directors a greeting. The poor man suffered a stroke. I hope my e-mail was not the culprit. Anyhow, news reports indicate he is recovering nicely.
On a devastating note, our country observed the eighth anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center in New York in September. Of all the reactions of world leaders to this tragedy, I was most impressed with Tony Blair’s selection of a passage from Thornton Wilder’s masterpiece The Bridge of San Luis Rey, as reported in the September 28 edition of Newsweek: “When a Peruvian bridge collapses and sends five people to their deaths, a well-meaning monk sets out to learn all he can about the deceased, thus to reveal whether we live by plan or by chance…” Tony Blair made an inspiring citation of the book’s closing peroration on love, and how it endures through cruelty and death: “There is a land of the living and a land of the dead,” it concludes, “and the bridge is love, the only survivor, the only meaning.”
So whether one remembers traipsing around in the mud at Woodstock, or calling the roll of the first freshman English class of official UAB students 40 years ago, both are events to be treasured. And there are many other memories that comprise the rich experiences of Alabamians that need to be shared. It doesn’t require the soft literary touch of Thornton Wilder or the folksy humor of Garrison Keillor to keep our history alive.
Be sure to let us know what you are commemorating this fall.
Written by: Bob W.