On the Corner
by Robert Docter –
JANUARY 1, 2000–What’s it mean to you? It certainly is some kind of a benchmark. We haven’t changed all four digits in an annual date for a thousand years. It’s ten times more than a century. It’s generated considerable hype, some anxiety, a lot of work for shortsighted computer programmers and a great big yawn from most of the population.
What’s it mean to you? Ol’ Pope Gregory and an avalanche of culture can force this date on you, but they can’t determine what meaning you will give it. That determination is locked somewhere in the innermost recesses of your brain. It’s lodged between one batch of synapses and another and linked by some intricate juice-driven neurotransmitters.
You’ve probably already assigned some meaning to it. The problem is, you haven’t conceptualized that meaning into some kind of manageable context. You see, assigning meaning to the millennium is not the only meaning issue we need to resolve. Our culture, based on a Judeo-Christian image of the nature of man and the nature of God, has assigned responsibility to each individual for the determination of meaning in regard to all aspects of life and death. We give meaning to ourself, our relationships, events which impact us, the notion of freedom, and yes, even a millennium. It is an individual responsibility. No group can do it for us.
Some see January 1 as a day little more than “tomorrow.” I wonder what the date would have been if Gregory had decided to stick with the Roman calendar instead of starting to count time in the common era with the birth of Christ. Is it just another day? Sure, there’ll be a little more celebration, a little bigger parade, but the same plethora of bowl games. The Big 10 and the Pac 10 will fight it out in the Rose Bowl, the Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band will demonstrate its free spirited creativity, and The Salvation Army Band will play “Onward Christian Soldiers” going past the cameras.
I suspect some see the new millennium as the biggest day of their lives. They will surround it with special significance. They will perform particular ceremonies and count time from a pre-millennial and a post-millennial perspective.
Most of us seem to want others to define the event for us. No one can remember how people in the year 999 dealt with the arrival of the year 1000. There appears to be no recorded history of the event. I suspect that most of those alive at the time weren’t aware it was even happening. So, in many ways, we, as living human beings today, build new patterns of behavior in relation to this calendar change. This makes us anxious. We turn to others for help to provide its meaning. Our anxiety grows from our need to escape individual responsibility.
This escape anxiety pervades all aspects of our lives, for even though we might not want to accept it, we have complete freedom in relation to the assignment of meaning. With it comes complete responsibility. We must define ourselves, give meaning to our lives, resolve the nature of our relationships with others, determine the course and timing of an action, recognize that inaction is also a decision and many daily small events around us which we must interpret ourselves. We must also know the meaning we assign God and his role in our spirituality. Most of us like to duck this responsibility because some of the choices are really difficult.
This millennium business, then, is simply a practice event for us all. We give meaning to it, become aware of the meaning we’ve assigned, put it into words, and then act in a manner in harmony with that meaning.
For me, January 1 has always been a trek up Colorado Boulevard and then watching the Rose Bowl game. I suspect the biggest problem facing me will be getting used to starting the written date with the number 2.