Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Reflecting on Anniversaries

Today, on this 43 anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, it would be appropriate to reflect on the state of leadership and political will in this country.

But I'm not going to do that. Instead, I'm thinking about numbers, and why 10th, 25th, 50th and 100th anniversaries seem so significant. For some, I think it's the odometer effect ... the fun of watching the car's odometer turn 100 or 1000 or 10000 or 100000 miles, and seeing all those 0's appear. (It used to be more fun when the numbers were printed on little plastic wheels.) After all, this is exactly why so much of the population was determined to celebrate the dawn of the 2nd millenium a year too early.

But what about 25th and 50th anniversaries? Is it just because those are interesting fractions of 100?

The whole concept of anniversaries has gotten out of hand. Ancient Egyptians developed a calendar so they could predict when the Nile would flood, bringing fertile topsoil with it. But now we use the year to measure our ages, determine when we should celebrate or commemorate past events, and know how often our insurance will let us visit the dentist. The year and its multiples have become so ingrained in our thinking that we characterize them by historical trends and developments. Oh, the sixties was the hippie decade, the seventies the disco era, etc. And the nineteenth century was so ... well, nineteenth century. It's as if some part of the human psyche ticked along with the atomic clocks, and underwent some transformation at midnight.

What's behind all this? Could it be that we have a fundamental need to see all of experience as cyclical, to take comfort in the repetition of patterns like seasons?

Damned if I know. Hey, my high school class was such a bunch of procrastinators, they had a big 26th reunion party!

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