Happy New Year – already days into the Gregorian calendar. I am not really late with my New Year greetings. If I decided to use one of the other nine active calendars in the world, I might be considered a bit early. The Chinese New Year begins February 12. On the Ethiopian calendar the New Year begins on September 11 with its current year being 2014 because that calendar has thirteen months instead of twelve. But who’s counting? The Roman calendar BC had ten months. There is a joke, maybe, that the Russian Olympic Team arrived 12 days late to the 1908 Olympic Games because they hadn’t yet switched from the previously popular Julian calendar to the newer Gregorian. Pope Gregory had commissioned Italian astronomers to revise the calendar now named after him, since 1582, but it took a while to convince others of its virtues. Centuries ago the earliest archeologists set the first clock and calendar in stone. It just goes to show that even things set in stone can be changed. The Gregorian is now the common calendar through which we have language to identify the start and end of a year like 2020 and talk of a possibly better year in 2021.
There are practical benefits to using a common calendar. There is no doubt about the dates to celebrate birthdays and national holidays. Business plans and meetings and school days can be mapped out. And where would we be if we couldn’t track appointments with the physician and dentist, or meet up with friends (one day again soon) and be there on the same day at the appointed time. Despite adhering to the Gregorian for routine activities, millions of people of different traditions still rightfully use their original calendars for religious and cultural festivals. There are Hindi, Islamic, Jewish, and Mayan calendars that have their own foundations in astronomy as well, and have reason to begin their new year on dates that acknowledge their interpretations of time, nothing to do with January1st. The world is richer culturally if we all give these time markers and observances room to breathe. But somehow I suspect that the year 2020 on the Gregorian calendar will trigger the same signals cross-culturally.
Less than 500 years ago, Astronomers – the scientists who study all activities related to planets, galaxies and stars – guided a Pope in figuring out a date for Easter. There was no ‘Religion VS Science’ debate or Science VS Politics. Calendars evolved and were adjusted through the years, based on Science and for the good of all. There may come a time when Astronomers again guide us to a new calendar with all the updated technology that is at their disposal. Who knows? They may find a way to lose the pesky leap-year anomaly and stabilize the atomic clock so that it doesn't have to be reset ever so often. Please, one more request, just give us the same number of days each month. Nonetheless, Astronomers can already claim fair credit for teaching us one significant thing that we know for sure: No matter the country of origin, geographical location, religious beliefs, racial or ethnic ancestry, we are all swirling around the galaxy on the same earth, with the same sun, moon and stars. If nothing else unites us as human beings, using a common calendar should remind us daily that we really are all the same under the sun. And moon. And stars.
Speaking of stars, in case you missed it, Astrology the precursor of Astronomy until a few hacks spoiled its reputation, made big news in 2020. Astrologers believe that the position of the stars and planets at different times has an impact on our lives and reveal particulars to those who consult them. What does Astrology have to do with 2020? The connection comes from a report by the Business Insider (Dec 26, 2020) on the Covid19 financial boom that benefitted many big companies. A somewhat surprise beneficiary was Astrology which, according to the Insider, grew exponentially into a 2.2 billion dollar industry while the world was reeling under the Coronavirus. Millions of people seemed to have lost trust in national leaders who botched efforts to provide citizens with clear guidance in the face of a raging pandemic. If the numbers are correct, people turned in droves towards astrologers to get assurance that all will be well in 2021; or at least that 2021 would be better than 2020.
As the year closed out courtesy the Gregorian calendar, sighs and utterances of relief were common. It has been widely labeled the “Dumpster Fire Year.” At the stroke of midnight on December 31, high profile celebrities and religious leaders alike were sounding off refrains such as “Goodbye and Good Riddance to 2020” or “Finally we can forget 2020 and move on to a new year.”
The history of calendars should tell us that a New Year is not magic, although it can feel that way. We all want the opportunity for a fresh start. It would be great if we kept our New Year resolutions. Considering the year that was, I understand people wanting to banish 2020 from memory. After all, regardless of the calendar we use or when the New Year really begins, a pandemic is a global crisis happening for all of us in real time under our shared sun, moon and stars. To date, across the world, there have been 85 million cases and 1.86 million deaths and counting due to COVID19. In the US alone, 2021 started with the death count at 354,000, highest in the world in actual numbers, and eighth in the world by deaths as percentage of population. Hundreds of thousands of families continue to be affected. Thankfully medical scientists have been working diligently to provide a vaccine that should bring relief by the end of 2021. By then we should know the totality of Covid19’s wrath.
Other crises persist. Many countries have been destabilized and people annihilated under the destructive impact of political crusades affecting lives and livelihoods. Brown University’s Cost of War Project determined that more than 800,000 people have been killed in prolonged acts of war involving the United States around the world in the last 20 years. Almost 40% of those killed were civilians. The US also lost 7,000 service men and women in these wars, and alarmingly, seems to be courting armed conflict and civil strife on its own soil. There isn’t a vaccine to protect us from global warmongering, civil war activists, or the devastation caused by wanton destruction of the earth. Human wisdom, empathy and caring must prevail. Love and Peace are not clichés.
The year 2021 does not and should not erase 2020. A New Year does not stand on its own. Regardless of the choice of calendar, each year exists on a continuum of life that includes events, catastrophes and lessons from previous years. As we move forward, there are some preceding years or periods in time that we should not forget, such as 2020.
“Lest we forget” is the most quoted line from the 1897 poem “Recessional” by Rudyard Kipling, an English poet born in India. It is thought that the phrase was adapted from words in Deuteronomy, fifth book of the Old Testament. It’s a quote that has inspired movies and art collections, and which has become a mainstay in Remembrance ceremonies that recall the atrocities of war, catastrophic events and the repetitious examples of man’s inhumanity to man. Christians, Jews, Hindi, Urdu and Islamic lexicons alike include the expression “lest we forget” when that is all that needs to be said: a caution against forgetting – a conscious effort to remember past events particularly tragedies and sacrifice.
As we grow older, our personal years of life history add up. We, who are into our sixties and beyond age-wise, would have already lived through, experienced, witnessed and survived a few tragedies of small or large scale. They don’t or shouldn’t erase our good and wonderful reminiscences. There are the good old days as well as the bad old days. At the same time, we should put the wisdom gained from the tragedies to good use. It saddens me when I see and hear people in their sixth, seventh and eighth decade of life contributing to the turmoil around us rather than bringing earned wisdom to bear on the situations at hand. While it’s true that illness and disability beset many older people, there are more healthy and active sexagenarians, septuagenarians and octogenarians among us, and many on the world stage. Whether we are family members at the dinner table, friends in a group chat, employees or employers, community advocates, national or global leaders, our role should be to demonstrate to those following behind us, the rational thinking and wisdom that come with age, experience, and lessons learned from tragedies past. Let us not leave the other generations with legacies of chaos. Spread good will and good sense. Lest we forget.