What do we mean by saying “Happy New Year”? Do we really believe there is something new about the condition of starting a fresh calendar? Or, do we mean that we hope life will improve as we continue to measure something we cannot define with clocks and calendars? I usually think of this season of the year as a time to reflect upon the trial and error called life. What should I correct in my life from past experience and what areas of life should I encourage?
Some writers go a little deeper. William Faulkner, the great Mississippi novelist, for example, wrote that there is no such thing as “was.” He explained that if “was” existed, there would be no sadness or sorrow. I guess he meant that since the past is gone forever, we must be sad or sorrowful. I can see that would be true if there were some idyllic past that we wish we could live in, like the many anachronistic Civil War reenactors who wish those days were back. I can also see that, for them at least, the past is not really gone—“was” exists.
Along those lines, the French philosopher Bergson and the French writer Proust posited the proposition that everything we ever experience stays with us. For them, there is no such thing as forgetting. We have all had involuntary remembrances of the sort that a smell or sound or other sensation suddenly brings back a whole experience from our past, a whole hunk of time that does not seem momentary. Every time I smell watermelon, I am taken back to my childhood and Aunt Sarah’s front porch where we feasted on cold melons in the hot summer time. Whiskey breath brings back some not-so-pleasant memories in the same involuntary way. So the French thinkers must have been onto something.
Don’t shrinks say something along those lines as well? You know, that all our experiences are filed away somewhere in our grey matter. Perhaps that would explain the phenomenon of our whole lives flashing before our eyes in a moment of eminent danger. I have often wondered where it stops. When the flashing show gets to the moment of the flashing show, does the flashing show replay and if so for how long? This has implications of eternity. (I am only kidding, of course).
But on a serious note, St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, having been influenced by Aristotle, that time is the number of motion. He meant that our clocks and calendars measure the movements of the cosmos, nothing more. A clock or calendar has nothing at all to do with my state of consciousness at, say, 3:00 p.m. We are simply measuring the revolutions and rotations of our terrestrial orb, are we not? So, time is manmade, our way of dealing with the immensity of God’s eternity. There are no clocks in Heaven because there is nothing to measure there.
I am glad for our measurements, however. It gives us the means of celebrating Christmas and of saying “Happy New Year” without even thinking of what we mean by that.