51: January 26th

51: January 26th

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miracles and More

January 26th

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.

~Thornton Wilder

I wiped the tears from my eyes and willed the day to be over as soon as possible. It was only 10:00 a.m., and I already felt emotionally exhausted. I had been feeling the dread grow inside me as the small square on the calendar inched closer and closer. Now, it was here: January 26th.

A year ago on this day, one of my best friends — beautiful, vibrant, inimitable Celine — had been killed in a car accident. It was undoubtedly the worst day of my life.

I made plans for the first anniversary of her death as best as I could, trying to keep busy. I taught a writing class for kids, and their innocent laughter helped raise my spirits a bit. I met a friend for lunch. I went to a salon and donated eight inches of my hair to Locks of Love in honor of Celine, but I barely made it to my car before breaking down in sobs. It seemed impossible that she was gone forever. I wanted something to blame, so I blamed the numbers on the calendar.

“January 26th is a terrible day,” I told my boyfriend Allyn that night. He had sweetly made my favorite comfort foods for dinner, plus double-chocolate brownies for dessert.

“I know,” Allyn said, patting my hand gently. “It’s almost over.” He had never gotten a chance to meet Celine. She lived in Paris, and we had planned to visit her that summer. We had already bought plane tickets. It made me so upset that they would never get to meet each other.

“Seriously,” I continued my rant, “this day should be purged from the calendar. Did you know that January 26th was also the day of my dad’s car accident?”

Allyn’s eyes widened. “I never knew that.”

When I was in high school, my dad, a sports columnist, was rear-ended by a drunk driver on his way home from covering the Super Bowl. It was January 26, 2003. His car was totaled, and Dad suffered a major neck injury that required disc fusion surgery. He had to leave the job he loved because his body could no longer handle the long commute to games and the late nights of furious typing on deadline. Even all these years later, he still deals with neck pain and nerve damage in his fingers.

“Dad never complains about it,” I told Allyn, “but that night changed his life forever. January 26th is a cursed day.”

Allyn didn’t say anything. He just looked down at our intertwined fingers and squeezed my hand.

Eventually, the awful anniversary drew to a close. We went to bed and woke up to sunshine, birdsong, and a new day.

A few days later, Allyn surprised me with a weekend getaway to Russian River Valley in the wine country. My eyes filled with tears when he got down on one knee. “Yes!” I exclaimed. January 26th was the worst day of my life, but January 30th was now the best day of my life.

We began to plan our wedding. During such a joyful season of life, the one sore spot was knowing that Celine would not be there to celebrate with us.

One evening, Allyn and I logged back onto our long-disabled online dating accounts — where we had originally met more than two years before. Allyn’s best friend, who was to be a groomsman in our wedding, had requested our online dating profiles for a gift he was creating for us. I also thought it would be fun to print out our profiles for a scrapbook and save our first messages back and forth to each other, the ones we sent before we switched over to texting and talking on the phone. It was fun to read the essays we had written about ourselves when we first signed up for the online dating website. Rereading them, I was struck by how genuine and honest Allyn’s profile was. His writing voice captured the man I had grown to love so deeply.

I remembered the thrill in my heart when I first stumbled across Allyn’s profile and glimpsed the photo of his warm smile. I had reached out immediately with a cheerful message. Allyn later told me it was obvious I was new to online dating because the tone of my message was so chipper and bright. I had only been on the website for a week when Allyn and I went out for ice cream. Soon after, we disabled our online dating accounts.

We clicked onto our messages to reread our first conversation. When I saw the date recorded at the top of that first cheerful message I had sent, reaching out to him, a shiver passed through me.

There it was, in stark blue lettering: January 26, 2014.

My relationship with the man who would become my husband began exactly one year to the day before my dear friend died.

Some miracles are big: an accident avoided, a disease cured, a life saved. Other miracles are small. As small as the date on a calendar.

I now see January 26th as a microcosm of life itself: the lows and the highs, the worst and the best, the curses and the blessings. I no longer let Celine’s death define her memory; I miss her and celebrate her every single day of the year. Instead of viewing my dad’s car accident as a stroke of bad luck, I choose to focus on the miracle of his survival — he walked away from that car accident when he very likely should have died that night. When January 26th comes around, I mourn the loss of one of my best friends — a dazzling star who was extinguished much too soon — and I also thank the universe for bringing my amazing husband into my life.

I still cry each year on January 26th, but they are no longer tears of pure sadness and anger. They are tears of grief and joy, regret and gratitude — and they are tears of hope. Each year, when Allyn and I celebrate the anniversary of the day our relationship began, I smile to imagine Celine is celebrating with us, too.

~Dallas Woodburn

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