We Matter.

It was an oppressingly hot September day when we visited the cemetery. The brittle grass pricked our feet, the blinding sun torched the inside of the car, the air dried the backs of our throats. We were there to visit the graves of two women we never met, but who will forever be a part of our lives, my great-great aunts Rose and Johanna. They died in 1915 when the boat they were on capsized on the Chicago River, taking 842 other souls with it to the murky bottom of the river. More than 100 years later, along with my grandparents and my sister Colleen, I took a solemn pilgrimage to St. Adalbert’s Cemetary north of the city.

My twins are middle-named after them. Elinor Rose and Juliet Johanna. My sister Colleen named my newest niece Rosalie, so now it is officially a family name and I love it. The trip to the cemetery felt important and special.

As we approached their plot I wondered how many decades had passed since their shared gravesite welcomed a visitor.

I thought about their too-short lives. No one who knew them is still alive, so I will never know anything about these women beyond what is etched on to their tombstone. What were their personalities like? What foods did they hate? Did they get along with each other? These are small details that matter. I know this because I hope the small details of my life matter.


Two weeks later, on a fine Chicago fall day, I walked to the downtown Social Security office with the twins. Juliet’s middle name was misspelled on her social security card – Juliet Joanna. Missing an H. For more than a year this sat on my “to-do” list as I assumed a trip to the Chicago social security office (with twins in tow!) might rank as low as a trip to the DMV. Visiting the gravesite reminded me that the incorrect spelling mattered. The name needed to be fixed.

We dropped Mack off at school and continued south along the busy city streets bustling with early morning activity. As we approached the Chicago River, I realized that we were nearing the exact place where Rose and Johanna died. The river I was crossing with their namesake nieces was the same river that violently stole their souls more than 100 years ago. I paused and choked back tears. The twins, nibbling on bagel halves, looked at me curiously.

Johanna. It was only one letter, but that one letter mattered. That one letter helped form the name of a person. A human being who could have been forgotten. I will remember “Johanna with an H“, in hopes, I guess, of believing that someday I will be remembered, too.

We are all so busy building our little lives. All the details of who we are and what we do matter so much right now, but 100 years from now what will it all mean? I hope the little things are building towards greater things. The small efforts I make and the small intricacies of who I am shape this family and establish the foundation for my kids’, and, in turn, my grandchildren’s, lives.

I matter.

You matter.

We all matter.

So, let’s make it all count.

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