Life may be many things, but most are measured in time. Every moment is, literally, the time of our lives! While we do not always make the “best” use of it (in a “timely” manner), most people are at least aware of and are able to appreciate the “passage” of time – and, on some level, realize that NOW is all there is. In the respect of an eternal present moment, time does not exist – and yet humans have created numerous incredibly elaborate methods and systems of categorizing and recording time. It sometimes seems like our culture “worships” time (and money). The concept of time that sometimes seems to vary the most is the (yearly) calendar.
Perhaps the calendar most famous and paid attention to lately might be the Mayan calendar, but the one most used in the world today is the Gregorian calendar (which even those who originally devised and advocated it later admitted was “wrong” – due to an “error” in their calculations of when it should begin). There are plenty of other calendars (and astrological systems) in use as well – some of the most “popular” (and oldest “surviving”) being the Chinese, Indian, Thai, Muslim, and Jewish. There are MANY others! Each differs in interesting ways – including not only when their calendars and years on them begin, but even when each new day and month starts.
Today is January 6, 2010. In one month, on February 6th, I will be 47 years of age – according to the Gregorian (solar) calendar. On the Jewish (lunar) calendar, the anniversary of my birth is on the 12th of Shevat – which this year will coincide with the Gregorian date of January 27th. I was born in the Chinese Year of the Rabbit (or Hare). In some Asian countries without rabbits or hares (like Vietnam), it was considered the Year of the Cat. I will have to wait for February 3rd, 2011 for it to be “my” year again. February 14th, 2010 will not only be “Valentine’s Day but also the start of the Chinese, Japanese, and Korean Year of the Tiger – even in Vietnam.
Until my 18th birthday, I had the “option” of filing for Australian citizenship (because my father was Australian citizen when I was born and his mother still lived there). My first jobs (in the United States) were working with sheep, and I briefly considered the option. But Australia is country (and continent) overrun by (real) rabbits. Although there are no astrological dingoes, even if I claimed to be a “cat” instead of a “rabbit”, my visit at age 17 had me reconsidering my desire to live Down Under in the land of koalas and kangaroos. So, at age 18, I chose, instead, to go to Israel (where I still had an “option” of filing for citizenship). Rather than exercising this “option” while I was there (and serving in the Israeli Army during the war in Lebanon), I chose to leave – and enlist in the United States Marine Corps. When I got out, I had a new perspective and appreciation for life in the United States – and all of my children have been born here.
My oldest son was born on the 9th of Shevat (5751) according to the Jewish calendar (in the Chinese Year of the Horse). The year “2012” could be a significant year – if for no other reason than my oldest son will be 21 (and no longer a “minor”) – on January 24th. I’m not sure if, or how, he finds this at all “important”, but our society has (arbitrarily) established it as the “age of majority”, so in that respect, even without a formal rite of passage or transition, it is “significant”. My mother’s mother is half-way through her 101st year of life. Many people are worried about what may happen at the end of 2012; my grandmother is not one of them – or even concerned if she will still be around to find out.
When people are younger, they often want to be, or at least be seen or treated as, “older”. When they are “older”, they often want to be, or at least look and feel, “younger”. In the past, age (and experience) was revered and respected. Lately, “newer” often seems to be perceived and promoted as “better” – or at least more “appropriate”, “attractive”, and “desirable”. Older is not always wiser, and newer is not always improved. While there may be correlation and connection between them, there is, just as commonly, considerable confusion about chronological “age” – and what it may or may not actually “represent”. Kaiser “Health Care” claims that any current age is “now the new” age twenty years “younger”. This may be in part due to an expectancy of increasing life spans, but is just as likely as appeasing or appealing to many not comfortable with accepting their inevitable impending mortality. The “truth” is that individuals never know how much longer they (really) have “left” – even when they are contemplating or actually committing suicide (believing that they are in “control”).
Many people seem to attempt to hide, or even lie about, their (chronological) age – for reasons that do not always make much sense (even to them). There seems to be some confusion regarding the end and start of each new “decade” and “century” of the Gregorian calendar.
Unless you were born in China, where everyone is considered a year older at the start of each Chinese Calendar year (regardless of when in the year they were actually born) – and is attributed 3 additional years upon death (for heaven, earth, and themselves) – how “old” we are generally refers to our chronological age (from birth), rather than any of a number of other measurable aspects of our lives.
We do not count a human’s age (or even pregnancy) from time of conception. Gestation progress and estimated “due date” of birth are calculated from the start of the mother’s last menses. Life is generally measured from when we first emerge into the world as a separate being from our mother: our birth day. Even if we (or others) do not celebrate, commemorate, or otherwise recognize as in any way special or significant the passing (or attainment) of each year in our lives, we still tend to count our years from the day of birth: B-day (starting at zero days old). Each previous day, week, month, and year needs to be complete before being counted. A year of life “ends” on the anniversary of our birth day – and a new one begins. We are considered one year old after we have lived for one year, not before. And during our second year of life, we are not considered to be 2-years-old until the second anniversary of our birth. On the tenth anniversary of our birth, when we are said to be 10-years-old, we have lived, and completed, our first decade and begin our second.
When it comes to calendar years, decades, and centennials, we count differently. There was NO Year Zero. While there were years before the Year One, they are counted backward – also starting with ONE. So, unlike our age, which ON our 10th “birthday” represents (among other things) “completion” of 10 years, or a decade, of life, the first decade of the calendar we use was NOT completed until the END of Year 10 and (rather than at the START of it) – making January 1st, 2011 (not 2010) the start of the next decade (since we are not yet done with the one we are still in – until December 31st, 2010). Similarly, the “21st century” did not begin until January 1st, 2001. The year “2000” was the END of the 20th century, NOT (yet) the beginning of the next one. Most of the hype about “Y2K” was just that. The same is true about 2010 (and the first decade of this calendar century). Although the Year 2000 was significant for a number of reasons (and many of the concerns people had are still with us), most people will agree that it was in 2001 that life really “changed” – especially after September 11th. I have a feeling that the fall of 2010 will also be quite memorable (and possibly life changing). Rather than focusing on the previous “decade” or worrying about the year 2012, I suggest appreciating and enjoying “the time of your life” NOW. If it helps you to remember you to do so, put it on your calendar – every day! Please also remember to post a comment – with your thoughts about the time of YOUR life. Thanks for sharing at least some of it with me!
© 2010 – 2012, Oren Pardes. All rights reserved.