Letter from Barry – February 2020

Every day is an extra

Everyone (or at least everyone with access to Google) knows that the earth takes 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 45 seconds to circle once around the sun. This is known as the ‘Tropical’ year. For convenience sake we disregard those hours, minutes and seconds to come up with our ‘Common’ year. To get things back in kilter we therefore need a February 29th every four years, with a few exceptions.

If we didn’t do that we would be almost six hours awry every single year. After only a hundred years we would be twenty four days behind ourselves. Or is it ahead? My ‘O-Level’ maths (grade 6 on a re-sit) isn’t helping me here.

Leap years lend themselves to legends and folklore. The best known leap year tradition allegedly originated in fifth century Ireland. Some aggrieved women complained to Saint Patrick that the men were dragging their heels when it came to marriage proposals. To speed up the process, albeit by not very much, Patrick decreed that the ladies could make the running every February 29th.

But we don’t necessarily need a leap year to focus our thoughts on an extra day. People who have had a particularly close shave with death are acutely aware of that fact. One such person is Kwame James. He is a six feet eight inches Trinidadian professional basketball player. He was on the December 2001 transatlantic Paris to Miami flight when fellow passenger, Richard Reid, bungled his attempt to detonate the plastic explosives which he had smuggled on board hidden in his shoe. Kwame James was one of those who overpowered and restrained the so-called ‘shoe bomber.’ Reflecting on that experience later, he said, ‘To know that you were that close to not being here. That sinks into you. Everything can change in a split second, so you need to live every day to the fullest.’

The Dutch priest and counsellor, the late Henri Nouwen, put flesh on the bones of that idea by saying, ‘Every day should be well lived. What a simple truth! Still, it is worth my attention. Did I offer peace today? Did I say words of healing? Did I let go of my anger and resentments? Did I forgive? Did I love?’ The hymn writer, Thomas Ken, put it in a nutshell with, ‘redeem thy mis-spent time that’s past, and live this day as if thy last.’

The time it takes for the earth to orbit the sun is fixed and guaranteed. The time of our lives is neither, making every day an extra.

Barry Overend