On time, celebration and myth-making!
By Elie Mikhael Nasrallah
What is more valuable than time? By far, time is the most precious commodity we know as it is non-renewable, when it passes it never returns, and once lost it is forever gone.
The billion-dollar question then is: Why do we celebrate its loss every year? Why do we willfully or ignorantly pretend that the past is gone and the future, or the next year, will be better and we are on the road to the promised land?
The human quest for better days is natural and understandable. Yet, year after year, decade after decade, century after century, we see and experience the same cycle of existence: War and peace; progress and backwardness; light and darkness; pandemics and healthy periods; beauty and destruction; liberalization and authoritarianism; liberty and tyranny, just to name a few contradictions.
The notion that the next time ahead, or the next year coming, is worth celebrating is certainly suspect and worthless in most instances. Marcus Aurelius said it best in his book “The Emperor’s Handbook,” when he wrote: “Whatever you do, don’t be troubled or anxious, but be free, and look at things like a man, a human being, a citizen, a part of the creation that must die. Chief among the thoughts close at hand, keep these two: first, that nothing outside the mind can disturb it –trouble comes from the mind’s opinion of what lies outside it; and second, that everything you now see will change in a moment and soon be no more. Can you even begin to count the changes you have already witnessed?”
Time and change are a constant companion to us all. We lose time every second of existence never to return. We also witness change everywhere within or without. We can detect change, or it passes us like a hidden current similar to gravity, known but invisible.
Aurelius goes on to say; “Up and down, from age to age, the world’s repeating cycles are the same . . . . Destiny or atoms, what does it matter? If God is discharging every detail, then all is well; and if everything’s a matter of chance, still you don’t have to be ruled by chance. (IX.28)”
In modern times, the yearly ritual of celebrating the end of the year has developed to become a carnival. Instead of reflection and sadness at the loss of a valuable year, we got accustomed to celebrating its slaughter. With fanfare, dance, commercial enterprises, and boundless vanity, we march into the new year with misguided anticipation and illusional excitement.
Boredom and modernity are making us intellectually lazy. If you happen to watch the yearly CNN’s Time Square celebration on New Year’s Eve, or other similar events worldwide, you get the impression that next year, next time, next occurrences are going to be so happy, correct, beautiful, and yes, “sexy”. Why we developed this notion of bogus anticipation or erroneous conception is beyond reason or experience.
Historical experience teaches humility, pragmatism, and consideration for the lessons of yesterday. History is a chain. Life is a series of patterns. Time marches with change to create the music of eternity. But humans are in love with mythmaking. It is our craft since day one!
All in all, Joseph Campbell was correct. Civilizations are grounded on myth. In his book “The Power of Myth,” he wrote on the importance of myth and culture. “The symbolic field as based is on the experiences of people in a particular community, at that particular time and place. Myths are so intimately bound to the culture, time, and place that unless the symbols, the metaphors, are kept alive by constant recreation through the arts, the life just slips away from them.”
Thus, the myth of celebrating the end of the year is as much a creation of a cultural current as it is a personal wish for a better future.
Elie Mikhael Nasrallah is an immigration consultant practising in Ottawa. His book “Gates and Walls: Reflections on the Immigration Question in Canada and the USA” will be published in 2022. He is the author of two other books and co-authored a third. www.eliemnasrallah.com
Photo: Javier Quiroga, Unsplash