Black Friday. I remember first hearing the term only a couple of years ago—could that be right? Thinking it to be indicative of something terrible like Black Monday, I asked my wife what is Black Friday and why are the ads on TV bubbling about it. Black Mondays—any of the 14 which Wikipedia lists—certainly would not engender the mood to spend money. My wife explained that the day after Thanksgiving is the busiest shopping day of the year, the opening day of the Christmas shopping season, the day that the store’s balance sheets will hopefully move into the Black.
I like Wikipedia's explanation better:
The day's name originated in Philadelphia, where it originally was used to describe the heavy and disruptive pedestrian and vehicle traffic which would occur on the day after Thanksgiving. Use of the term began by 1966 and began to see broader use outside Philadelphia around 1975. Later an alternative explanation began to be offered: that "Black Friday" indicates the period during which retailers are turning a profit, or "in the black."Again according to Wikipedia our friends across the pond in the UK have their own and more interesting version for Black Friday:
Black Friday is the last Friday before Christmas.Heavy and disruptive pedestrian and vehicle traffic certainly is cause for the day to be considered “Black” to me, and ergo a day to be avoided. But even that pales to the mental image that pops into my head when I hear the term Black Friday. Always one to wallow in the darker side, when I hear the term Black Friday a visual memory from my youth pops into my head. I see the cross on the altar covered with a black veil during the Good Friday service at the Lutheran Church. Odd, we wouldn’t have the one Black Friday without the other.
In the United Kingdom, Black Friday is traditionally the most popular night for office Christmas parties. As a result it has gained a reputation as one of the busiest nights of the year for restaurants, public houses, and, as a result, the emergency services.
I do have my own version of Black Friday. Despising crowds and shopping in general, I have never participated in the Black Friday festivities. Generally the day after Thanksgiving is a quiet day given to reflection and relaxation. Back when I used to keep an active journal, I would often write some post-Thanksgiving tome. I was doing so 15 years ago. It was an especially Black time for me. A month prior, my wife’s father had died and I was slated to be laid off from my job in January. So I was sitting in the same exact spot that I am sitting now staring into my computer screen and typing a rather dark entry into my journal regarding the grief for my father-in-law, the sadness that I felt for my wife and mother-in-law, and my fears for the future. If I could have extended my gaze through screen and the wall of my house I would have seen a young woman and her toddler daughter dying. From my front yard, I can see the exact spot where they died in a head-on collision about four and a half miles south east of my home.
I had no idea at the time. I didn't know about the accident until several years later when I saw two crosses on the road marking the spot. In one of those odd things that one pursues without knowing why, I searched the newspaper’s website and learned of the accident. The woman and child had died on the day after Thanksgiving at the same time of day that I was making my journal entry. From the obituary I learned the cemetery and found the woman’s and child’s graves. Going through some weird middle mid-life crises at the time with the reality of death, this woman and her child became an icon of the senselessness of death to me. As the story went, the child distracted the woman for instant and she crossed over the center line into the path of a large truck. A tragic and needless loss of life.
As I mentioned I was grappling with the reality of death at the time. For several years in the late 90s, I would on occasion kick around cemeteries, read the inscriptions on the head stones, stop and wonder about the person, their life and passions, what was important to them, how did they die…trying to make sense of this fleeting period of consciousness that we call life. Once while I was at the cemetery, the woman's husband came to visit the graves. I knew him from the family photo on the grave stone. I was about 50 yards away and feigned interest in a grave before me. He spent about 10 minutes. Near enough to watch him without being obtrusive, I could see that he was talking to his wife and child. He then said some prayers and left flowers and a small stuffed toy bear on the grave and departed. He was a handsome young man in his early 30s—much too young to be visiting a dead wife and daughter. I wept for him, although truth be known, I believe he was more at peace with the loss of his wife and daughter than I was. Or was he? He had been living real grief with an empty home for several years. I was living a self imposed vicarious grief for people that I did not know--a hobby by comparison. I went home to a live and loving wife and son.
I am not sure that I learned anything from my contemplations of death. It still seems senseless to me. I don’t fear it now like I did when I was very young. Nor did I particularly fear death when I spent my year or so of grieving for this woman and walking through cemeteries. I was trying to understand death. I tried to come to terms with the finiteness of our lives by walking among the dead. I don’t think I succeeded. I still don’t understand why we must die. Oh of course, we must die to make room for the next generation. That makes sense. But it is a cold fact—like World War II ended in 1945 or the largest state of the union is Alaska. It does not really tell me why we must die and, indeed, be so damned aware of the fact.
So, while the rest of America seeks the Black Friday bargains, I stare through my computer screen to a point in space and time four and half miles away and 15 years ago and wonder why did this woman and her child die?
Black Friday indeed!
EDIT 11-28-2010: Interesting commentary on Black Friday:
Washington Post, Guest Voices, "Black Friday is the high feast day of our thing-centered cult-ure" By Carson Weber