A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
Okay, ladies and gentlemen! Brace yourselves — because there’s no way to sugar-coat it. Tomorrow doesn’t exist; you are about to enter a man-made time warp. As of midnight tonight, what you think is the present is actually the past, and the future won’t begin again for another 24 hours. Deep, huh? Don’t be scared, though; it happens every four years. (Not really, but it’s too complicated to explain*.) It’s called a Leap Year, or Leap Day to be more precise, and we need it because the universe doesn’t care what time you want to go to work.
The Universe, Mother Nature’s boss, doesn’t get involved in the affairs of humans. It’s got better things to do. We humans, Mother Nature’s most precocious children, have never quite understood that. We think that if we make a couple more scientific discoveries or sit naked on a mountainside for a couple of years, we’ll get this whole universe thing figured out. It’s not likely, but nobody ever accused our species of being humble. The Universe actually rolls on without us, asking neither permission nor forgiveness, and nothing we say or do is going to change that.
Despite what old hippies and serious dope smokers will tell you, Time is not an artificial concept. It exists, and people have always measured it. Way back in caveman days, there were only two times — dark and light. This is an extremely accurate measurement which most species on this planet still use. However, as our species got busier and busier, we discovered that minor Time (major time is beyond our grasp) had recurring themes. The sun travelled across the sky, the moon got larger and smaller, and familiar clusters of stars moved in elliptical patterns. All these things happened with incredible regularity. Therefore, it was simple for primitive humans to figure out that there were usually twenty nine suns between each full moon. Not only that, but our ancestors also found that if they persistently watched the night sky, the movement of the stars corresponded to the seasons. For example, in the Northern hemisphere, what we call Orion’s Belt first appears in the southwestern sky in early January, soon after the morning sun is lowest on the horizon. Thus, by noting when Orion’s Belt first appeared in the sky and counting the number of suns until it reappeared, early sky watchers discovered a complete earthly cycle — or a year. These two rough and ready measurements (or something similar) are the basis of all early calendars.
Unfortunately, as our society got more and more sophisticated, these primitive tools didn’t keep pace. There’s an inconsistency between the months and the years that causes nothing but problems. Essentially, 12 lunar months equal only 348 solar days — which leaves a 17 day gap in the celestial year. As the years went on, the seasons were slowly getting out of whack. No less a light than Julius Caesar saw this and devised a new system called The Julian Calendar that remedied most of the problems – for a while. However, 1600 years later, these problems were back — with some extra added attractions. Not only were the seasons out of place again (they had moved twelve calendar days in the centuries since Caesar) but the highest holiday in the Christian calendar, Easter, whose timing is based on the Spring Equinox was disappearing into seasonal winter. Pope Gregory XIII decided rather than let the Universe figure it out, he would fix it. After all, he was the infallible head of the Roman Catholic Church. He set his minions a mission: devise a calendar that would work for all time and keep Easter in the spring (where it belonged.) They came up with the Gregorian Calendar which added an extra day in February every four years (or so) to even out the imbalance. Gregory’s new calendar was proclaimed in a papal bull on February 24th, 1582 and is now in general use. Problem solved.
Which brings us back to the time warp that is tomorrow. Tomorrow doesn’t exist because Gregory’s extra day was inserted for time already past. Here’s the deal. As our earth moves around the sun, it takes 365 days, 5 hours, 49 minutes and 12 seconds to made one full circle. For simple calculations, we call that a year. That was the amount of time a year took in 2017, 2018 and 2019. Obviously, that time is gone. However, in our burning need to realign the Universe, here we are with a whole extra day to make up for it. But the reality is that day is over. We’ve already lived those hours, minutes and seconds. In the great metaphysical scheme of things, this is borrowed time.
So take tomorrow off, kick back, throw a ball, read to your kids or just lie elbows deep in a pillow, contemplating the infinite. If anybody asks, blame it on Pope Gregory. He’s the guy who thought a little time management would be good for the Universe.
*A Leap Year is every year that is exactly divisible by four, except for years that are exactly divisible by 100. However, the centurial years that are exactly divisible by 400 are still leap years. For example, the year 1900 was not a leap year but the year 2000 was.
Originally written 2012 and gently edited.