Updated: Apr 6, 2021
Following on from the alibi, day 10, Thursday 17th April 2013
On the train from Toulouse to Pau
Photo: I didn't take this picture, I borrowed it from the internet
The earth revolves around the sun every 365 days, 5 hours, 59 minutes and 16 seconds. In the vastness of uninterested space, no one single point is of any more significance than another. And yet, here on earth (in the west), we choose to celebrate one specific second becoming another specific second. We do this because in our 1582 Gregorian calendar one number changes to another number. We choose to party because a Pope authorised a new system of counting days.
It gets galactically wackier when the change involves a zero, like 2019 to 2020 or more crazy still from 1999 to 2000. Egg on ya face, you were all a year out.
Our psychological comfort is built around predictability and patterns (as an experiment, fold your arms one way, now swap). As much as we like to imagine we are good at dealing with change, when the change in question is “out of our control”, we suffer increased anxiety. The current coronavirus pandemic gives us more than enough proof. More mental health issues, more domestic violence, more absurd “end-of-civilization-as-we-know-it” conspiracy theories. Predictability is predictable, and therefore safer than the unpredictable unknown.
Is this the reason we celebrate the milestones?
We can see them coming, and when we pass them it feels like an accomplishment, of sorts. We create these fictions to reassure ourselves we are in control. The problems arise when we come face to face with a reality that shatters this illusion. The bad news from the doctor, the police at the door in the middle of the night, the loss of employment, a government-enforced lockdown. All harsh reminders force us to confront the reality, we are not gods, we are frail, limited mortals. We control little more than the volume on the tv (in even numbers). In the vastness of the cosmos, we are, essentially, unimportant, and we don’t like it, so we celebrate zero’s.
A pilgrimage is the deliberate acceptance of unpredictability, and I hadn’t got the memo. My previous nine days were a comedy of errors, a real life Keystone Kops, and I was unprepared for how quickly I folded. I just couldn’t give up on the idea that things weren’t working out the way I imagined they would. I was angry at the universe for not conforming to my will. My denial of reality was the source of my angst.
By deciding to want to continue my pilgrimage, rather than have to, I rejected the illusion of control, and unexpectedly, set myself free.
“Our ultimate freedom is the right and power to decide how anybody or anything outside ourselves will affect us.”
Stephen R. Covey
The acceptance of our powerless is the moment we become powerful.
 While the space to denote “nothing” was first used in Mesopotamia it was the Hindu astronomer and mathematician Brahmagupta in 628 who gave it mathematical importance. It skipped the Romans completely; they didn’t use a “0”. The first known European use of zero was in 1598. The Italian mathematician Fibonacci, who grew up in North Africa and is credited with introducing the decimal system to Europe, used the term zephyrum. This became zefiro in Italian, and was then contracted to zero in Venetian, and on into English.
Therefore, the second millennium was the last second on the 31st December 2000. We choose to party hard because we think the change from 1999 to 2000 is more significant than 2000 to 2001.