New Year’s Day is a holiday of time. It marks another click on the odometer. Some people have lots of miles left. Others measure their lives in tenths of a mile and are happy for it.
Time is fungible, relative and inexorable. As much as we want to pretend that the end is not in sight, time will not be ignored.
Geoffrey Chaucer once said that time and tide wait for no man. Chaucer lived in the 14th century, when, if one lived to be 57, as he did, the waves washed in early. In the 21st century, many of us mull our midlife crises at 57.
On New Year’s Day, culture forces a one-day gut check: Where have I been? What am I doing? Where am I going?
It’s a useful exercise, but a little scary, too. What, exactly, should you be doing? Unloading planes full of medical supplies in some impoverished country? Should you put more money in the IRA?
Should you go to law school or learn how to knit? Should you spend more time reading the great books, so you can know Chaucer better? Should you paint your house and organize your garage, or binge-watch the latest Netflix series, or watch bowl games and call it a day?
The passage of another year and arrival of a new year causes many people to contemplate reform: They will quit doing this or that, or start doing something or the other. Sometimes it works. Time doesn’t care. It just keeps ticking forward. It’s a shot clock you hear with a jarring buzzer.
New Year’s Day forces individual assessments, and collective reflection: Can we band together to stop global warming, inhumanity and suffering? Is there time enough to rescue society? Can we feed the world, end genocide and stop Ebola’s spread?
We use time to chart progress; it does march onward. In the United States, the most diverse nation the world has known, we ask ourselves what progress we have made on relations among the races this past year.
What about our role in the world? We’re still stuck in the ancient rivalries of the Middle East, still dependent on its oil, and don’t seem to be experiencing forward motion at all. Last year, climate change became ever more evident, and the Earth has passed 400 parts per million on carbon. We’ve never been here before. Is our time to act past?
Again, the clock. Can we turn it back on climate change? Can we move it forward on race? Do we accept stuck hands in Afghanistan, Syria and the West Bank?
California, the state that lionizes progress, has collectively struggled back from bad economic times, though the coast still does better than the Central Valley. Maybe it’s only a matter of time until we’ll come back, too.
We have a governor whose public life spans five decades, a lifetime for many, but, of course, it is a blip. Jerry Brown, too, is time-conscious: He’s thinking about big projects and youthful Supreme Court appointees.
The way America celebrates New Year’s Eve is fascinating: a countdown, a falling ball in Times (heh) Square in New (heh) York, and then a national paroxysm of celebration at midnight.
After that, maybe read a little Chaucer and then to bed. We have to get up in the morning. Time to get up and ignore time for another year. Nothing we can do about it. Oh, and the tide is out of your hands, too.