Only pictures on a calendar?

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By David Whitlock


The new year already has flown, leaving its newborn status lying flat in the nest.
And I’m left with all these extra calendars---two from local businesses, two from churches, which somehow think I will be interested in adding their agenda to my schedule, and another complimentary calendar from a company wanting me to buy calendars to give people next year, assuming, I suppose, that I somehow believe others will be interested in my agenda next year.
But I like the pictures on these calendars, anyway.
Most appealing to me are calendars with pictures of nature coinciding with each season, which is nice, especially if you live in a place where you don’t have distinct seasons. In Oklahoma, where I grew up, we could have a brutal winter followed by a miserably hot summer---both of which seemed to endure forever. But fall was a weekend fling, and spring was a whiff in the air. So I loved gazing into those calendar pictures of a New England fall foliage or a radiant springtime in Kentucky. Ahh---how relaxing they seemed, especially to a high-strung high school kid.
Why do so many calendars have pictures of animals---dogs, cats, horses? I suppose if petting a dog or having a cat curl up in your lap can steady your emotions on a roller coaster day, maybe the next best thing would be a picture of a likeable creature. And that’s nice, especially when so many of the human species aren’t.
Calendars with mountain or ocean scenes can bring relief from the harsh realities of life, too. Just imagine you are there, and that can smooth wrinkled emotions.
But, of all the calendars I enjoy, one calendar stands above all the rest.
That happens to be the custom calendar my wife created online. Each month is filled with pictorial memories of my family. I turn to January and there is Mary and me, having a cup of Community Coffee in the kitchen; in April Lori is baking a birthday pie for Madi; I look to July and there’s Dave and Madi splashing in the pool with our two Schnauzers; a glance at August and Mary and Madi are cooking an Italian dish for grandparents; and finally, I’m in December smiling at Harrison opening presents.
Relax, release, rejuvenate.
Calendar pictures of family soothe me amidst the stress and strain of life, reminding me, as I close my eyes with those pictures in my mind’s eye, of life’s priorities. Unlike the old flip books, which created an illusion of motion as you thumbed through them, glancing through the calendar’s family photos does quite the opposite: It halts the movement into a single photo shot, a sort of mental composite, leaving us with an image of what’s really important: family.
I’ve never known anyone in their dying moment wish for more time at the office. But I have seen, time and again, person after person, finding comfort as they lay dying in the presence of their family.
Death brings the living together---at least for a dying moment.
On this calendar day, I’m standing with a young couple at the graveside service for their stillborn child. Grieving the memories of memories that never happened---their baby’s first cry, the giggles, the words “Dada,” and “Mama,” the baby’s first steps---the parents seem mesmerized by the tiny box containing the body of their baby.
Having closed the service, the harsh January wind whips across our faces as I ask: “Would you like a little time here just to yourselves, apart from the rest of your family?”  
“No,” the father whispers, “we can only make it as a unit.”
A unit--- a family unit.
I doubt that cemetery scene will be on a calendar picture next year or ever, but I hope the words will echo for that family through the months of each year: “We can only make it as a unit.”
Death is a part of living, and though it’s usually an uninvited and unwelcomed guest, it still intrudes onto our calendars without our invitation or embrace, reminding us that it has an appointment with each of us on a number somewhere between one and 31.  But the family pictures, those memories of life---or even the desire for it---breathe significance into what is past and cast hope for the future: We can make it as a unit, a family unit.
And that’s the truth---no matter what pictures are on your calendar.
Contact David B. Whitlock, Ph.D. at drdavid@davidbwhitlock.com, or visit his web site, davidbwhitlock.com