Feb 282012
Authors: Matt Miller

When Pope Paul III died in 1549, he was technically only about 25 years old. Similarly, hit East Coast rapper, Ja Rule, is really only about 8 years old.

Obviously, Paul wasn’t the youngest pope in history and Ja Rule isn’t some kid who has had feuds with Jay-Z and Eminem. Both Paul and Rule were born on Feb. 29, Leap Day, a day that miraculously appears on our calendars every four years.

So, whom do we have to thank for this awkward day that exists, but kind of doesn’t exist? We can thank the round little rock we call home. For some reason or another, Earth decided it was going to screw up and make our lives a tad bit harder by taking 365.26 days to rotate the sun.

As a result, while creating the Gregorian calendar in the 16th century, we logic-seeking humans decided to fix this anomaly by burdening ourselves with the occasional, extra day.

While it doesn’t really hurt anyone, except for those weirdos born on Feb. 29, Leap Day does provide a little bit of fun every four years for those of us bored with the drab 365-day year.

In certain traditions, women propose to men on this odd day. Some people decide to get married on Leap Day, a choice that clearly benefits the man, who only gets in trouble every four years for forgetting an anniversary. Others try to use an extra day to straighten out finances, and in the past, Leap Day was thought to be a day where laws didn’t actually exist.

In China, Earth’s annoying rotation habit is dealt with by adding an entire extra month to the calendar. The Islamic calendar doesn’t even bother to deal with leap days.

Here in the U.S., we have this tradition where we like to elect our country’s leader in congruence with leap year.

For me, Leap Day just serves as a 24-hour observation of a cosmic joke. Hard as we try to take control of time and our universe, we humans, with all of our ingenuity, are still powerless to the natural rotation of our planet.

Scientists are so obsessed with matching the sunrise and sunset with our days that they even add leap seconds to our official timekeeping atomic clocks –– a necessity since our solar day is slowly increasing.

We have a natural urge to quantify and understand the universe around us. By assigning minutes, seconds, weeks, months and years to the movement of our planet we have a sense of power over our existence.

This gives us the ability to measure our lives and make sense of the past, present and future.

But, the joke’s on us. The system that we use, that is important in every aspect of our lives, is flawed. Time itself isn’t exact. The seconds on your watch that you count-down until that meeting or that date aren’t as perfect as we would hope.

Time is something that can’t be clearly defined, and days like Leap Day make it ever more apparent.

Philosophers like Immanuel Kant believed time to be something abstract. To Kant, time was simply a system through which humans comprehend events. Other thinkers like Sir Isaac Newton thought time was part of the mathematical structure of the universe.

So, what is today? Is it a man-made label to understand where we are in our lives in relation to the past and future? Is it just another rotation of the Earth? Is it just another day like yesterday and tomorrow? Is it just a label on a calendar? Or maybe it’s someone’s birthday and that person will spend the rest of his or her life deciding if they were born on Feb. 29, Feb. 28 or March 1.

The truth is, there is no real answer. Time itself is a subjective thing that is given tangibility through numbers and names. And the abstract nature of time is never more obvious than Leap Day — a day with a questionable existence.

If anything can be taken from this 366-day year, it can at least be a small observance of the joke the universe has played on us. We can build cities, fly in the air, understand nuclear physics, but time, the thing that keeps our realities in check, is still somewhat of a mystery.

Maybe by tomorrow this column won’t even exist, having been published on Leap Day –– only time will tell.

News Editor Matt Miller is a senior journalism major. His column appears Wednesdays in the Collegian. He can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @Official_MattM.

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