It’s a funny thing, our artificial division of time into discrete years. We allocate personalities and distinct colours to particular years, regardless of the fact that nothing really separates December 31 from January 1, except our fevered imaginations. We operate according to an odd supposition that we experience a given year in a way that is somehow common with other people all around the world, despite that sheer impossibility that this could ever be true.
In our lived reality, maybe time is more like a river. As Heraclitus said you can never step in the same river twice. Once a moment in time had happened, you can never get it back (wormholes and Interstellar-type movie plots aside, of course). But we do all in our power to deny that basic proposition: even my power bill conspires to make me see time as a predictable, manageable series of chunks, by sending me handy little graphs showing tiny monthly skyscrapers of my power usage, as if this year could be compared with last year in some meaningful way.
Maybe we should blame the Gregorian calendar, that temporal bloody hamster wheel of months and days that grinds on into the future. Notwithstanding time-zone differences, most of the world experiences the same month at the same time, in addition the years are broken up by festivals, religious and secular many of which are now recognisable around the world even though they themselves might originate from different calendars; Valentine’s Day, All Saints Day, Diwali, Christmas, Easter, Hannukah, Chinese New Year, Matariki…it doesn’t really matter. We, no matter our culture, like our time in chunks, dressed up, with purpose, with character, explicable. Maybe then we can grasp it, control it, make it stay, make it mean more than it really does.
We are now in the middle of a collective, apparently worldwide phenomenon of attempted time control. We are told that 2016 is unprecedented, that we are in the middle of an orgy of death, loss and change. 2016 is the Year the Music Died. 2016 is the year of Trump and Brexit, the year the Feminist Bubble burst, to name a few monikers. One Australian site kicks off its 2016 review with a nicely understated sentence:
THIS year feels like the ugliest, cruellest, most frightening year in history.Political norms and hegemonies have disintegrated, leaving us to flounder in the uncertainty of Donald Trump, Brexit and the clash of civilisations that is radical Islam vs. the west.
Aw gummon. I can name any number of years that might jostle for that overblown title, with the benefit of historical hindsight. We don’t even have the hindsight yet, the dust hasn’t settled, the sand has not yet exited the hourglass, but the judgement had been made. A later paragraph gives readers a clue as to the author’s own rationale:
This year we suffered the Orlando nightclub attack which killed 49, suicide bombs in Istanbul which killed 45, the Bastille Day truck massacre in Nice, France, which slaughtered 77, the Brussels airport and metro attacks which claimed 35 lives and most recently the Christmas market attack in Berlin.
Seriously? “We suffered”? Actually, very few of us did, but this paragraph sweeps all of “us” up into one global homogenous lump, and ignores extraordinary suffering elsewhere. Who the hell are “we” anyway? The society of fellow creatures imagined by the author, that’s all. This article is just more evidence of a giant echo chamber; it is no reportage of an actual THING.
This is not to say that bad things have not happened, of course they have. Some things, such as Brexit, are not yet bad or good, we just don’t know WHAT they mean yet. And to very many of ‘us’, ‘We’ don’t give a tinker’s cuss. Some perspective can be good. Some relief from the echo chamber is welcome.
My kids, for example, view the year totally differently than many of the worried adults I know. For them this has been the first year of secondary school for the 13 year old, the year of the 7 year old’s birthday sleepover, the year the 10 year old had his first Trinity exam. They talk about Trump, and they are a bit scared of the shouty orange man, but he’s not more important than DragonBallZ Xenoverse 2. He just isn’t. Nor is he nor the death of Bowie more important than the signing of the Wairoa settlement in November. Fill in the following blank with the Important Event or Moment of your choice __________.
Really all the broader 2016-angst reveals is the preconceptions of some of us about our own lives, and probably, our own sense of helplessness and lack of control over time and mortality. Some of us really have had terrible experiences in the last 12 months, and there are genuinely scary things happening around the world, and we are part of that world. But, like all moments, consequential or otherwise, this stretch of moments will soon be lost, like tears in rain.