a long way to go

Thirty years ago this week, Eva and I stood before three priests and an assembled gathering of family and close friends at the Newman Chaplaincy of…

Thirty years ago this week, Eva and I stood before three priests and an assembled gathering of family and close friends at the Newman Chaplaincy of McGill University to exchange our marriage vows.

The ornate room, bay windows and fireplace of the old mansion on upper Peel Street in Montreal remain clear in my memory.

This is possibly because of the many times I participated in church services or other gatherings there.

This must be the reason because other details of our wedding day are a personal blur.

Our, as-of-yet unsorted wedding pictures may hold some clues to help reconstruct the day. Anecdotal tales of the important afternoon hold the best indication of my state of mind.

Apparently at the time in the wedding Mass to exchange greetings with those present, I shook hands with Eva’s godmother and kissed her godfather.

Later when we hosted a larger evening potluck and dance with our university friends, the pressure eased. We could finally relax and even enjoy the festivities on that warm, clear Montreal night. The beer and watermelon might have helped.

Anniversaries are important for a number of reasons.

They remind us of significant events.

By their observance we are offered an annual chance to reflect on just how far we have come in living up to our wedding vows or for other key social or political anniversaries, the vision proclaimed.

Anniversaries underline the community nature of events. The people initially gather there not only as witnesses, but as a visible support community for the new couple or the new idea.

Their presence implies a helping hand when needed and a prod to persevere when difficulties set in.

Eva and I took a short detour off of the busy I-90 tollway in upstate New York last week. Less than 10 kilometres south of our exit we hit the Cayuga and Seneca Canal linking the Finger Lakes with the same names. It is a spur off the famous Erie Canal.

Turning east a couple of kilometres, we found ourselves in the small town of Seneca Falls.

Whitehorse and Seneca Falls share a common fate.

Locks built there in 1915 took care of the falls remembered in their name just like the Yukon River dam erased most of the rapids that once inspired our civic moniker.

Seneca Falls has another claim to fame. One hundred and fifty nine years ago today delegates were in the second and last day of the first convention for women’s rights in the United States. Three hundred women and men like Elizabeth Stanton and Lucretia Mott, met at the Wesleyan Methodist Church there.

They would sign the landmark “Declaration of Sentiments.” Modeled on the United States Declaration of Independence it simply and starkly proclaimed the then revolutionary notion that “all men and women are created equal.”

It later continued: “The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her.”

A long list of grievances from denial of the vote and property rights, to limited poorly paid work opportunities ends with: “He has endeavoured, in every way that he could to destroy her confidence in her own powers, to lessen her self-respect, and to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life.”

A 40-metre marble wall has the whole text inscribed on it. They knew that the task they had set themselves would be difficult.

The declaration ends with: “In entering upon the great work before us, we anticipate no small amount of misconception, misrepresentation, and ridicule; but we shall use every instrumentality within our power to effect our object.”

 The names of all the signers followed marking their assent to the visionary document.

This monument forms one side of a small plaza just below street level. A sheen of water constantly flows over it.

Standing a dozen metres back and above it an open-air structure protects the fragments of preserved walls and the couple of remaining roof beams from the old church.

Celebrations today will mark this anniversary in Seneca Falls.

We remember and celebrate our personal, community and societal anniversaries because they help us go forward.

The struggles of the past, individual or communal, formed and inform us. We can always do with an annual jolt of inspiration and celebration.

There is still a long way to go.