Last week I talked about how the sun and moon shape the environment and how some of the reasons they can be important to a soldier. This week I’d like to explore another concept in which the sun and moon play critical parts: TIME.
In my cultural studies before deploying to the Balkans in the ‘90s, one difference that stood out was how different cultures perceive time. As an American who grew up in suburbia, for me time was strictly linear: one thing happens after another. Minutes tick by into infinity; what happened before is old news. I was surprised to learn that not all cultures understand time that way.
For many people, time is cyclic. The sun rises and sets, rises and sets. The moon moves through its phases over and over. Winter, spring, summer, fall, winter, spring, summer, fall. Crops are planted and harvested, planted and harvested. Generation after generation of people are born, grow up, have children, grow old, and die.
It took me a while to understand this concept. After all, time is linear, right? Things have a beginning and an end! As I have grown a little older, I have begun to notice the cycles more. To be honest, the lunar cycle is probably my favorite, and not just because of the moonlit military shenanigans I described in my last post. To me, the moon is an honest broker of time. A glance up at a moonlit sky grounds me, and reminds me of where and when I am. This was never truer than when I was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. I wrote my family often, and in particular when I wrote to my son I would make note of when the moon was full: this served as a sort of a countdown. “Hey buddy, it’s a full moon! Only eleven more to go before I come home!” For me the full moon was a shared point of reference for my family and me.
Now my son is in the last quarter of his senior year in high school. We have shared a lot of full moons. When I step back and look at his progress, I can clearly see the cycle in action: He was born, he has grown, and he is about ready to step out into the world on his own, to jump straight into this adventure called life. All is as it should be.
So, is time really linear? Yes and no. Yes, time marches on into infinity, but it also repeats itself in cycles. That is its nature, and it will continue to do so as long as the sun rises and sets, and the moon moves through its phases.
U.S. Naval Observatory Sun and Moon Data for One Day: http://aa.usno.navy.mil/data/docs/RS_OneDay.php
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