It’s the end of another year, which has me thinking about several things, seemingly related, but not really. (I’m sure there’s a word for that.)
Specifically, I’m wondering about calendars, their wide and long-standing histories and origins. I’m curious about new year’s resolutions, why we make them and how many of us succeed in keeping them. I think about the past year’s failures, but look forward more to the annual retrospectives of the good things of 2017.
I am oddly drawn to the “Hail and Farewell” segment on this last CBS Sunday Morning of the year. There’s a strange need to mourn the lost talents and brave accomplishments of ordinary people who, through sheer determination, made a mark in the world before their demises.
Finally, I ponder the coming year. I bury my dreads under a mountain of hope that the ultimate goodness of humankind will at long last be victorious over envy, greed, sloth, gluttony, lust, pride and anger.
Calendars are not arbitrary creations. They are usually, but not always, in sync with cycles of the sun and moon, thus lunisolar. As with so many of our words, the root of calendar lies in the Latin “calare,” a verb meaning to call out as the calling of the new moon when it was first seen.
From that came “calendarium,” an account book or register settled on the first of each month, in sync with that new moon. Most calendars were based on observation of the cycles of sun and moon, though there were early attempts at algorithmical calation, or mathematical calculations of the predictability of the seasons.
One of those early attempts was the Gaelic Coligny calendar of the second century, later reformed by Julius Caesar in 45 BC wherein a leap day was added every fourth year, and which we follow today. We are also aware of other calendars which are currently observed primarily in religious settings, such as the Islamic, Chinese and Hebrew calendars that govern traditions, celebrations and customs of those groups.
The custom of making new year’s resolutions dates back to the ancient Babylonians, who made promises to the gods at the beginning of each new year to gain their favor. In their time it focused primarily on getting out of debt and returning borrowed items. That practice has evolved into our present custom of making promises to improve our lives in a number of positive ways. Depending on whose statistics you look at, it appears that about 40% of Americans make resolutions each year, and of those between 80-92% fail within the first two weeks (US News, Huffington Post, and psychologicalscience.org).
Knowing all this trivia doesn’t do much for ending 2017 on a high note and embarking on 2018 with optimism. It simply adds to the wealth of useless knowledge that crowds my brain. But it does remind me that humankind has, for a very long time, been striving to bring order and knowledge to our world, both scientifically, mathematically and ethically.
Through observation, contemplation and reflection, men and women have found order in the universe, and have created order in interpersonal relationships. They have established institutions of higher learning, standards of fair government, and moral imperatives that guide how we treat one another. They have aspired to heights that rival, or at least emulate, the gods or God. It is truly heady stuff.
In my retirement, calendars no longer hold the significance they once did. The day of the week, the month of the year, are all pretty much the same to me. What has changed is the desire to make every day count for a productive use of my time. To that end, I no longer make resolutions I know have failed in the past.
Instead, this year, my resolve lies in the personal desire to be just “better” at being a person. I want to consciously work harder at listening to people, understanding what they are really saying, being compassionate toward feelings I may not relate to, and learning, learning, learning, especially about things totally foreign to me, like world religions, world history, and how they are all interconnected.
I go into 2018 in the knowledge that there are many things beyond my control, particularly with regard to politics. But I also go into 2018 knowing that there are far more ways I can control making life better for my fellow men and women. I can do it with my limited wallet. More important, I can do it with my brain, my time and my energy. I can aspire to universal truths about tending my spiritual garden as well as the human garden that surrounds me.
My intent and prayer is that we all thrive in a fertile, compassionate new year. May that be your intent and prayer, too.