Many of you are probably familiar with the musical Rent, a rock musical with music, lyrics, and book by Jonathan Larson, loosely based on Giacomo Puccini’s opera La Bohème. Rent follows the story of a group friends who are mostly young artists struggling to survive in New York City’s East Village in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The setting is a place called Bohemian Alphabet City, and the devastating disease haunting the community is HIV/AIDS.
The opening number of Rent is called Seasons of Love.
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?
In daylights, in sunsets
In midnights, in cups of coffee
In inches, in miles
In laughter, in strife
In five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure a year in the life
How about love?
Remember the love
Measure in love
Measure, measure your life in love
This time of the “year” we spend a of time reflecting on the past “year” of five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes. What were those 525,600 moments like for you in 2017? The thing is, have you ever wondered why we say 365 days and 525,600 minutes make a year and why we have to mark each year as something significant?
Some of you may be history buffs, and if you are, you’ll know that calendars have been around for a long, long time.
But it is important to know that the original calendars created by humans were based solely on the position of the sun and the moon; in other words, they were lunisolar calendars. No Google syncing involved with that calendar.
Much later, the Roman calendar, based on many of these ancient observations of the sun and the moon, was reformed by Julius Caesar in 45 BCE. The main difference was that now the calendar was not based on natural observations of the sun and moon but instead an algorithm of including a leap year every four years. But don’t thank the Romans just yet.
How about the Persians?
In the 11th century, a mathematician, astronomer and poet, Omar Khayyam, in Nishapur [NE Iran], measured the length of a year to be just a few decimal points more than 365 days. His calculation was incredible, considering that it was more accurate than the calendar proposed by Pope Gregory XIII five centuries later! And that’s pretty important to know, because the calendar that the Pope introduced was called the the Gregorian calendar [a refinement of the Julian calendar], and is today in worldwide use as the de facto calendar for secular purposes.
Meanwhile, in Iran, they continue to follow an observation-based calendar, unlike the Gregorian, which is rule-based. Finally, consider that today seasonal calendars rely on changes in the environment rather than lunar or solar observations. The Islamic and some Buddhist calendars are still lunar, while most modern calendars are solar, based on either the Julian or the Gregorian calendars.
Why does this matter?
Because we’re convinced, in this day and age, that every December 31st a year ends and a new one begins. We go to parties, pay money for champagne or lavish trips; we cry, mourn, regret, kiss, celebrate, and make new year’s resolutions. We seem convinced that we must measure these 525,600 minutes. And it’s often difficult and triggering for many of us.
So what I’d like to do, if just for a moment, is to challenge all of us to ask this question:
Is a year, 365 days, 525,600 minutes, really important?
Must we measure our lives by those moments, already mathematically defined for us?
Or is there something more to this life, to this existence?
Spoiler alert: I think there is more.
I’m not criticizing anyone who celebrates New Year’s Eve, toasts with champagne, makes, resolutions, etc. Hey, if it’s an excuse to party and have fun, why not? I’m just questioning whether this idea of a “year” and measuring it is healthy and honest. Instead, I’m lifting up another, also ancient idea—that we as creatures of this earth are experiencing seasons.
This is nothing new of course. Ancient writings, including the wisdom literature of the Hebrews, said that everything had a season. There was a time for everything, and it wasn’t based on some calendar approved by some Pope. There was a season for everything.
Being born, dying, planting, harvesting, killing, healing, breaking down, building up, weeping, laughing, mourning, dancing, throwing away stones, gathering stones, embracing, not embracing, seeking, losing, keeping, throwing away, tearing, sewing, keeping silent, speaking, loving, hating, warring, and making peace.
So during this time, when you’re told to mark the beginning of a new year, here’s a better question: what season are you in now? What time is it for you?
And I wonder, what would happen if you measured each season of your life in love?
It’s always a good time to do that, right?
For future reflection/enjoyment: The Rubaiyat-Poem by Omar Khayyam
Translated into English in 1859 by Edward FitzGerald
And, as the Cock crew, those who stood before
The Tavern shouted – ‘Open then the Door!
You know how little while we have to stay,
And, once departed, may return no more.’
- Now the New Year reviving old Desires,
The thoughtful Soul to Solitude retires,
Where the White Hand of Moses on the Bough
Puts out, and Jesus from the Ground suspires.
Come, fill the Cup, and in the Fire of Spring
The Winter Garment of Repentance fling:
The Bird of Time has but a little way
To fly – and Lo! the Bird is on the Wing.