It fills today’s square on my mother’s calendar — Phyllis Norton’s birthday. Yesterday my mom told me to send her a message on Facebook. I will, I said. Maybe you should do it today, she suggested. I’ll do it tomorrow, I said. Don’t forget, she said. I won’t forget, I promised.
It seems I, we, have made that promise to this day before. September 11th. We all know where we were 21 years ago. How we felt. The fear. The uncertainty. I was going to pick up an order of frames from Metropolitan Picture Framing. I had a big order to fill. The Minneapolis Streets were almost empty. People were paralyzed. The skies were empty overhead. Do I still get my frames? Do I just keep doing what I’m doing? Did any of it matter? We all had the questions. But this was the life I had promised myself. The life of an artist. Painting. Writing. Creating. I had to keep going. We all had to. And we did feel like a “we” then…didn’t we. Together. We banded together. Vowed to ourselves and the world that this would not break us. Not individually. Not as a nation. No, we vowed to be strong.
And I think we were, for a while. Together. We braced hands on each other’s shoulders to lift us off of our knees of prayer. Shook those same hands and vowed to work together. Clapped those hands together in praise and we did survive. Stronger. And then years went by, as they always do, and hands unlocked. Waving goodbye to all those promises we had made, all those promises that said, if you just get us through this, we will be better, we will never forget. And worse yet, some of those waving hands turned into fists. We started to lose our way, and more importantly, our “we.”
I suppose it is human nature to move on. But we promised to never forget. So how do we keep those big promises – the big promises of a nation to do better, live better, be stronger together? As I look at my mother’s calendar, maybe the answer is, we keep all the little promises. All the little promises we’ve been making since we were young. Be a good girl, my mother told me, as I went off to school. I promise. We promised our teachers to follow the golden rule. We promised our friends that we would be forever. Our neighborhoods that we would watch out for each other. We wrote birthdays on calendars. Anniversaries on cards. We promised to be loyal. To be kind. To be there. For each other.
So this is where it begins. Again. Today. We keep those beautiful little promises. We remember. Each other. Happy Birthday, Phyllis Norton.