The passing of the year is humankind’s most eternal and monumental experience. The turning of the calendar is a primeval ritual derived from the essence of our reality. In many ways it’s all we have. I know we are all exhausted, but we must hold on to the year.
Years are not arbitrary; they are essential. Years connect humans to all other physical elements on Earth, to the sun and moon, to the very Newtonian foundations of our existence. The demarcation of time is a great planetary unifier, transcending across all humans and all species, and even beyond. Viruses mark the years. So do oceans and winds—maybe even some rocks know when the year is up. If inanimate objects can detect the years, we should not willfully ignore them.
It’s metaphysically dangerous and aesthetically offensive to label as arbitrary the passage of any year—let alone one as momentous as 2020. Only the most reckless nihilist would pretend not to care that this horrific year is now over, that it took 365 days, and that we are now in a new period of human life. And only the most priggish nitwit would ignore the elegance of the annual cycle.
But it’s happening anyway. Over the past decade (also now ended, also less arbitrarily than you think), social media has revealed and enabled the reckless nihilism of the most insignificant incel to the President of the United States and everyone in between. It’s become boring to lament the erosion of collective principle and shared truth—literally unremarkable.
Despite its radioactivity, I’ve seen this meme begin to spread. Because the year is sacred, and because attacks on it are now multiplying, I can’t let this nihilistic outburst pass unremarked.
Our structural problems and societal failures do not disappear on January 1. But each January 1 does matter. So, once again: Years exist, years must exist. To discard the year is to abandon everything. Don’t do it.
The passage of time derives from Earth’s movement around the sun. Even those who believe time is an explanatory device to aid our comprehension of the universe, anyone who believes in Earth, the sun, and their relative motion should see time as a derivative of their near-eternal dance.
The year is the fundamental unit of this cycle. The objective reality of its periodicity is evident everywhere. The Winter Solstice, not three weeks in our past, is objectively the shortest day possible. When does it arrive? Every 365 days.
The ebb and flow of the seasons are objectively real, and they govern everything we do—they govern the basics of human life. To take a salient example, “flu season” is not a human construct. The annual changes in weather enable viral transmission, leaving us vulnerable to disease at a predictable, eternal cadence. Crop plantings and harvests follow the annual cycle.
Our survival depends on the year, which is why we’ve built so much of actually arbitrary human social constructs on top of it: school, football season, festivals, when we get married, when we mourn the dead.
The ocean tides expand and compress according to the Earth’s trip around the sun. I only recently discovered the beautiful words aphelion and perihelion, and they support my claim. Water, the molecule that engulfs our planet’s surface and underpins every life we know of, marks the years.
There’s more, but what more do you need?
I can’t recall of collective exhaustion quite like what I observed in the fading weeks of 2020. The jalopy of human experience, already through the pit crew’s entire inventory of replacement parts and stop-gaps, sputtered and stalled in the three weeks heading toward 2021. Workplace productivity crashed through another floor; holiday celebrations went on mute; artistic passions and romantic ambitions cooled in the damp streets emptied by a pandemic. I could briefly tear my attention from my phone screen and summon a semblance of emotional presence for my toddler—but only briefly.
It’s in these moments of exhaustion that we’re tempted, like the addicted or the clinically depressed, to give over fully to the dull tug of gravity, to shed the last ideas that empower us and connect us to the world. I understand why, after the collective trauma of 2020, people are ready to cast off even the most powerful and most elegant guideposts for human existence. Even the year.
After all, it’s in these weaker moments that we feel the most compelled to pedantry—to show a contrarian intelligence, to mark ourselves as above the typical concerns of our more basic fellow citizens.
To believe in the value of human life, to believe that science should inform our collective decisions, to grapple with the real and meaningful problems we faced last year and that remain ahead of us is to accept that years are real, that they’re objective and tangible, and that their existence is precious. Abandonment of the year entails a cosmic zoom-out that will cripple most human minds and reveal an absurdity of existence that is utterly useless in our daily life.
Keep the year: I wish you well, year