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Time’s illusions

Time’s illusions

by William H. Benson

January 24, 2020

Mother Nature builds chunks of time: a day, a month, a year.

From one sunup to the next defines a day.

One full moon to another full moon—29 ½ days—defines a month. On occasion though, two full moons will fit inside a 30 or 31 day calendar, and that second full moon becomes a Blue Moon. Our next Blue Moon will occur this year, in 2020, on Oct. 31, Halloween.

Nature dictates that a year shall last 365 ¼ days. For three consecutive years, we live 365 days, but then during leap year, the fourth year, we gather the four extra quarters into an extra day, Feb. 29. This year, 2020, is a leap year.

Human beings though have constructed additional blocks of time: the second, the minute, the hour, the week. Wise men from ancient Babylon divided a day into 24 hour slots, an hour into 60 minute units, and a minute into 60 second units, each derived from a base 12 system.

The length of a week though is arbitrary. The ancient Aztecs relied upon two weeks, one that included 13 days and another that included 20 days, and the two worked together.

The ancient Romans looked forward to their “nundinae,” the week’s final eighth day, market day, a tentative weekend, but it was Constantine, Rome’s emperor in 321 A.D., who adopted the seven-day week, due to influence from the East.

Because Christians celebrated the Lord’s Day on Sunday, Constantine set Sunday as the first day of the week, and because the Hebrew people celebrated the Sabbath on Saturday, the week’s seventh day, he set Saturday as the week’s final day. I agree, seven days is sufficient time for a week.

English-speaking people still honor the sun on the week’s first day, the moon on its second day, and certain other ancient gods on its other five days.

The ancient Anglo-Saxons paid homage to a god of war named Tui, and the Vikings had a god of war named Tyr. One or both contributed to the name Tuesday. The Anglo-Saxons’ chief god though was Woden, and we honor him mid-week, on Wednesday.

Thursday refers to Thor, the ancient Vikings’ god of thunder; Friday pays homage to Freya, the Teutonic goddess of love and beauty; and Saturday looks back to Saturn, the Roman god of agriculture.

What is unusual is that Spanish-speaking people call the week’s last day “sabado,” a reference to the ancient Hebrew people’s Sabbath.

We began a new year four weeks ago, in this month of January, although the ancient Romans began their new year in March, near the vernal equinox, in the springtime. A common belief holds that January derives its name from Janus, the two-faced Roman god that has one face looking to the left, back into the past, and a second face looking to the right, forward into the future.

Yet, certain ancient Roman farmers’ almanacs state that January derives its name from Juno, the goddess of marriage and childbirth, wife of Jupiter, and the queen god. From her we also get June.

A new year beckons us forward. Time—as measured in days, weeks, and months—stretches before us. Yet, time belongs to no one. It is a gift from the gods, or from Mother Nature, or the amazing fact that we are here, alive, together on planet Earth, and we wake up every morning.

If we master the seconds, minutes, and hours of our lives, we master the days, months, and years. Along the way, we learn some things, or, as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The years teach us things that the days never knew.”

The English poet, William Blake, wrote, “Eternity is in love with the productions of time. The hours of folly are measur’d by the clock, but of wisdom: no clock can measure.”

Emerson also wrote an astonishing essay that he entitled, “Illusions.” He says that, “Every god is there sitting in his sphere. The young mortal enters the hall of the firmament; there is he alone with the gods alone. On the instant fall snowstorms of illusions.

“He fancies himself in a vast crowd which sways this way and that and whose movement and doings he must obey. What is he that he should resist their will, and think or act for himself.

“And when, by and by, for an instant, the air clears and the cloud lifts a little, there are the gods still sitting around him on their thrones—they alone with him alone.”

Oh, yes, time can seem an illusion. It jogs for the young, it sprints for the adult. We grip time and ride it as well as we can, but time slips away before we want it to. We wonder, how to slow down time?

I say, enjoy the year 2020, each second, minute, day, week, and month.