Every new year, we see many top 10 lists in news publications and in broadcast media – top 10 news stories of the year, top 10 movies, etc. I always find these lists strange and artificial, and revealing of something very real that’s inside all of our heads – the utter immensity of the idea of time marching on and our constant attempts to grasp that notion. These lists are as if we are collectively trying to capture time which has already fled us and trying to make sense of it.
Time seems like such a strange idea. It’s a human invention for something that exists but cannot be captured or comprehended or dealt with in any way that falls within the narrow parameters of our consciousness.
In a story I did about how we think about and deal with our own mortality, I interviewed and spent some time with one of the greatest thinkers and researchers on this subject, academic and author Robert Kastenbaum. On this topic of the end of the year and how we grasp the notion of the 12 months that have passed by denoting it with lists, Kastenbaum would probably say that it is yet another attempt to persevere over our own sense of mortality.
How strange it is to celebrate the marking of a new unit of measurement – which is essentially what a year is. We have only one other such celebration – birthdays. I wonder how intricately the two are connected. I wonder if I am the only one who thinks of similar thoughts during both birthdays and new years – assessing the previous year, looking at the year ahead, making plans, processing the past.
And finally, I find it fascinating that we made a conscious choice – in every society in the world that I know of – to celebrate the markings of both birthdays and new years, instead of mourning them. Wouldn’t it have been just as plausible that the passing of yet another year and the start of yet another be a somber occasion? And yet, I think it says something about what it means to be human, the intrinsic sense of hope and optimism that we can’t shake, that we choose to celebrate, to reconnect with each other, and to plan ahead.