How do you measure a year?
by David Romanik
The second act of the 1996 Broadway musical Rent begins with a song entitled “Seasons of Love.” The first lyric is a number, specifically the number of minutes that comprise a year (525,600 – incidentally, if someone knows how many minutes are in a year off the top of their head, they are most likely a musical theater geek), and this counting leads to the question at the heart of the song, namely, “how do you measure a year in the life?”
Being a musical theater geek myself, I have been acquainted with this question for a long time, but it has taken on a different kind of resonance for me in recent years. One of the consequences of the pandemic, especially in its early days, was that time ceased to mean much of anything. Many of the milestones that normally punctuate a year (holidays, birthdays, various annual events) were either canceled or transformed beyond recognition. Even as those observances were reinstated, I found it was difficult to get back into the rhythm of things. Routines had been disrupted; the warping of time had already occurred. It’s also not lost on me that I am in a stage of life when my perception of time is already skewed: I mean, how is it possible that my oldest daughter is almost nine years old?
This may seem like an academic exercise. Time is time, after all: who cares how we measure it? How we measure time says a lot about what we believe the purpose of life is. Our lives, after all, are our personal experience of time. Do we see time as a commodity to be spent? Do we see it as that thing that occurs between events of significance? Or do we see it as a gift from God, the means by which we become fully who we are called to be? “How do you measure a year?” can also be asked in this way: “How do you make sense of the time that has been given to you?” The answer to this question has the power to transform our lives. The question of how one measures a year, in other words, is at the very heart of our humanity.
This is one of the reasons I believe the liturgical calendar is one of the Church’s great gifts to the world. The liturgical calendar, structured around the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, helps us to make sense of time in a way that is rooted in God’s relationship with creation. For the Church, time is a way to know God more deeply. The liturgical calendar, in other words, helps us acknowledge that every day is a gift from God: that, in the words of the prophet, God’s steadfast love is “new every morning.” This is particularly true during Eastertide. On Easter, that “day of days” in the liturgical calendar, the Church makes the astonishing claim that God has the power to raise the dead. The implications of this claim are enormous: if God can give life to our mortal bodies, then what we do with our mortal bodies has incredible significance. Thus, the way we use the time that has been given to us matters in ways that we cannot fully apprehend. In the resurrection, in other words, God proclaimed that all time has meaning. These “Great Fifty Days” of Easter are an opportunity for us to “try on” the resurrected life, to behave as though the time we have been given has eternal significance.
As most of you know, my family and I were in Connecticut a few weeks ago for my grandmother’s funeral. Babci, as we called her, lived for over 100 years, embodying joy throughout her life. Just after she died, I realized that Babci had lived just over 36,000 days (the math is easy when you are 100). While that is clearly a good long life, 36,000 doesn’t seem like that many days, particularly when we think about how often we fail to appreciate the gift that each day represents. Easter invites us to recognize that, no matter how many we are eventually blessed with, each day is a precious gift.