Measuring Time

January 3rd, 2015

Well, it’s a new year. I know this because I have torn off the last page—December, 2014—from the tiny calendar that my dentist, Dr. DeStefani, sends me every year. Now the new one is resting in its place on my computer table.

Some of us register the passage of one year into the next by the coming and going of Christmas and New Year’s eve and day. When we were young (or if we’re teachers) the passage is marked by the winter break between terms and semesters.

I could check Wikipedia or search the net to discover the  origins of marking the inception of the new year (at least in Christian countries and communities) on January 1st, but I prefer to reflect on without being bothered by actual facts. That way my imagination gets more exercise and there is always the possibility I might stumble across a mini-revelation or be blessed by an instance of grace.
So, proceeding without actual references…   I dimly remember, from high school or college (those events being so long ago now that they merge in my memory) that some Roman emperor fixed the calendar that we use now; that, indeed, the entire world—with the exception of certain ultra-orthodox groups—uses now to conduct business, take holidays, and to regulate all sorts of other human, economic and geopolitical interactions.
In the United States, we recognize the different New Year’s celebrations of other religions and ethnic groups; the Jewish New Year, The Chinese New Year, The Islamic New Year, etc. etc.  But most Americans—including the secularized members of these groups—regard these celebrations, no matter how holy or profoundly meaningful they may be to some, as quaint old leftovers from ancient history.)
I also recall (again, but dimly) that the Roman calendar was (is?) regarded as more accurate because it’s based on Solar, instead of lunar calculations. In this, I freely admit my recollection may be completely off–possible due to some lunar pull in my mind.

Imagine–some Roman emperor (was it Gregory?) who lived around seventeen hundred years ago (give or take the odd hundred years) established when the “old” year would end and the new year” begin. You can get away with that stuff when your empire is so vast that whatever you decree reality to be has to be followed by half the “known” world.

The ancient Chinese calculations of when the new year began was much like the rest of the old world; it followed the natural course of the planets, stars, weather and the “deaths” and “rebirths” of the natural world. When I consult the I Ching, I find that the new year was considered to start in February, when the buds were observed to be well-formed on the trees and the ground was beginning to pulse with the manifold yearning of bulbs and seeds—waiting for the sun and it’s warmth to release them from their various protective shells.

I remember, when I was in my twenties and thirties, there seemed to be some magic to the advent of the new year—as if the changeover was going to bring (by who knows what kind of supernatural process)—some actual change to my life. Now I realize that was partially a hope and partially a resolution on my part to deliberately create change.
But as I’ve gotten older, I notice that there doesn’t seem to be much of a difference between December 31st and Jan 1st. When I wake up in the New Year, I still have liver spots on my hands, still brush my teeth the same way (with the electric toothbrush recommended by Dr. DeStefani.); and I still seem to have the same anxieties and melancholy reflections I had the year before. What may be new are the barely understood incremental changes in my perception of the ebb and flow of life. But these perceptions—like the dim twinkle of stars in space—are usually subsumed by my daily allotment of internal and external challenges.

All this movement and calculation is contained the great sweep of human and natural history and the measurements of science. But still I prefer my own method. When the Dr. DeStefani’s cheap little calendar (a silent reminder that he is there for me should I experience any dental needs) arrives in the mail, I know it’s time to start reflecting on the old year and preparing for the new.


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