Friday, February 29, 2008

Leap year: no exceptions!

I can't resist the odd siren call of posting on Leap Day. However, I can't think of a post topic that is apropos.

And maybe that's the topic?

When I was very young, I guess I must have been about eight, I remember being introduced for the first time I recall to the concept of leap years. I was born in a leap year, as of course were many of my friends throughout school, being roughly the same age. In college, I had a friend who was actually born on Leap Day, making today either her 36th birthday or 9th, depending how you choose to look at it. (I did call and wish her a happy birthday, and actually got to celebrate her 5th birthday with her more or less, living with her in the same house at the time.) You'd think having a birthday of the 29th of February would be really cool, but despite the assurance of Cecil Adams, my friend only really felt like she was truly having a birthday on the actual 29th, and so only got a "real" birthday every four years. Thus, you are different, but in a way that isn't so much fun.

But back to my own youth... I recall thinking that it was odd but cool that some years were different. I really had no idea that the year had a (fairly) constant length, and that most years were 365 days, but some years were 366. (My own children, who are four-and-a-half are just now beginning to grasp the concept of seven-day weeks.) Those odd years seemed quite special, and of course, that odd day in itself. I also was quite taken with the concept that while years divisible by four had an extra day, years divisible by 100 did not. And yet, the year divisible by 100 that I eventually would experience would be an exception. So although leap years were an exception to the general rule, 2000 would be an exception to the exception to the exception. Somehow, I wasn't sure whether this was as cool as a regular leap year.

So I often thought, how interesting it would be to live in 1900, when there would be a year that was not in the regular cycle of leap years! Why was this exciting? Simply because it was something different! Of course, I still had something to look forward to in that I would be living through the change to a new millennium! Surely that was cooler than the change to a mere century. But 2000 seemed so far away, and of course then we'd have to live through the horror of intelligent computers killing our astronauts to keep us from knowing about space aliens, or something like that.

Of course now, having lived through the supposed change of the millennium and the actual change on New Year's Day 2001, the concept sinks in to an older and more experienced brain that whether the year starts with a 1 or a 2, whether it's New Year's Day or Leap Day or my own birthday, it's just another day, and these divisions we give to the times we live in are completely arbitrary. The millennium passing was not very exciting at all, even with the specter of the Y2K bug hanging over us. Whether today is February 29th or March 1st, all that really matters to me on a personal level is that it's Friday, and the weekend will be here by sundown.

The thing is, there's something sad about that. Not that we can change it, but there's a beauty to a mind that can look at days, even a day as mundane as a day in 1900 that didn't exist, but fell between the crack of February and March. A few months after that leap year in my youth, I was starting third grade, a new year that happened to be in a new school, with a new teacher, and anything could happen. This month, I moved into a new office, many days I write a new blog post, my children learn new things in school, and day by day I feel what even on the most exciting days is, compared to that excitement of youth, a crushing boredom.

How would it feel to get that sense of awe back? Could you watch the sun set, and not just see it as a beautiful sunset, but with the beauty and awe that you might have had with the very first sunset you ever saw? Could I put my children to bed tonight and look at them with the same profound sense of raw, new love that I felt seeing them for the first time on the day they were born? When you're young, everything is new and exciting, but when you're older, there are so many exceptions to that sense of wonder.

Is it possible to find a way to live life and find exceptions to the exceptions?

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