I am not sure how old I was when it dawned on me (or someone told me) that Christmas and the New Year did not come at exactly the same time everywhere in the world. I am not sure how I felt when I learned the kids in Europe had opened their presents six hours before I did. And for sure, I do not think I could quite grasp the fact that Chinese kids had done their New Year’s party at noon my time. And by the time I watch an old year go out and welcomed a new one, the Chinese had just had their lunch!
Now I know fully that all this is due to the fact that our earth is round. It is a big ball. And it takes the ball twenty-four hours to spin around one time. I know this in my head, but honestly I have had very few experiences to convince me the earth is round! It still looks flat, except when you get in the mountains. But there is nothing even with the mountains that would tell us the earth is round. I don’t doubt the scientists, but I do have to take it on faith.
What really intrigues me is the whole idea of time. Clearly, day comes, followed by night, and yet another new day. That is pretty easy to grasp. Along the way some smart person figured out how to measure time. Days and nights were no-brainer measurements. If I go to sleep when it gets dark, at some point I realize it is getting light. So I conclude the night is “over.” And a “new” day has come. It can’t be the “old” day. That was destroyed by “last” night.
And then, the measurements of time became more specific. Hours were invented; then seconds. It takes twenty-four hours in one day-night cycle. Given this, China can be twelve hours “ahead” of me since China is half way ‘round the globe.
I think it would have taken a little longer to figure out the cycle of years. Spring giving way to summer and then falling leaves and snow became clues. “Years” became the measurement of this cycle. Our calendar decides the New Year comes with January 1. For Christians and Jews this follows upon the Hanukkah and Christmas celebrations.
For me these holiday seasons and New Year’s Day always feel like a coming and going. But that’s time. And that’s life. You can’t grip it, you can’t hold it, you can’t stop it. You live it. And hopefully, you live it as meaningfully as you can.
Sometimes meaning comes really easily. It is almost effortless and is like grace. And sometimes, life throws you a curve and it is difficult, if not unimaginable, how to make meaning. I think in most cases meaning is made. Many of us don’t think about it this way; somehow, it is tempting to think meaning either “is or isn’t.” We don’t realize the power of our choice. We don’t fully appreciate the fact that we can make meaning out of almost anything that time delivers to us. To make meaning is a form of power. Victor Frankl recognized this power even in the throes of a Nazi concentration camp.
Indeed, we cannot always change the situation in which we find ourselves. But we always have the choice how we view the situation. Neither Nazi guard nor anyone else can deprive us of that freedom. I take solace in this. But I also realize I need to take responsibility.
If meaning is made, then I want to make good choices so that my meaning can be as full and rich as possible. All my “yesterdays” are gone. The New Year is upon us. In addition to scientists, I also have faith in the God who is present to us in all our times.
May we recognize and respond to that God. May that God bless you and me…in every new day that comes our way.
This is the last message until the University opens again January 5, 2015.
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