Time and the number 12 BY Craig Smith

Do Something | January 07 2016

Tempus Fugit. The Latin phrase meaning ‘time flies’ has been one of the truisms I have lived by all my adult life. There are so many clichés associated with time that I could just fill this page with them. I have always felt that the time we are on Earth is very short. Even if you live to see more than a century, that is still a very short span in the age of our planet. There has always been so much to do and so much to see that I hate to waste any of the precious moments that are given to me.

Ask anyone for a clear definition of the word ‘time’ and you might get many, or none, but you will definitely get someone thinking. The dictionary definition is just as confusing, “The indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole.” Now, what the heck does that mean? Scholars have debated for years to come up with definitions that make sense, and still haven’t. Time is indescribable.

The average heart beats around sixty times per minute and you have to wonder if that’s one of the ways how the passage of time was recorded. If we live to a ripe old age of 100 and our heart did beat an average of 60 times per minute, we would be alive on Earth for approximately 3,153,600,000 beats, or seconds. Every second counts and keep in mind it probably took you about 240 seconds to read this article, and about 3,600 seconds if you read every word of every article in this magazine.

Other than your heartbeat, which is hard to keep track of, humans and animals have used other events to calculate the passage of time. Daytime and night time are one of the first events that come to mind when talking about immediate passage of time, and without using a calendar that has the year broken up into months you could also distinguish the seasons or cycles of the year. Early man gauged time based on the visual shape of the moon. The moon has 12.381 cycles per year, which is almost one cycle per month. The scholars of ancient times realized this, but to have the cycles and the year match up was impossible, so (with what I’m sure was an incredible amount of debate) the Romans decided that 12 months were needed. There were 12 zodiac signs and 12 divided up nicely into 2, 3, 4, and 6.

It’s amazing how 12 comes into play when trying to understand the passage of time. We already know there are 12 months in a year. Minutes and hours are factors of 12. Days are made up of 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night-time, more or less. We hit puberty at 12, the midlife crisis around 48, and retirement around 60, which again are all multiples of 12. I’m getting a little off topic, but there were 12 Roman Gods, twelve tribes of Israel, In the Muslim faith there are 12 Imams, in Christianity Jacob had 12 sons, in Hinduism the Sun God had 12 names, and the Norse God Odin also had 12 sons. There were the 12 labours of Hercules, 12 Knights of the Round Table, and the twelve days of Christmas. The Chinese calendar year is divided into 24 and they use a 12 year cycle for their time reckoning called ‘Earthly Branches.’ If we go futher beyond our thoughts about time, there are 12 persons in a jury, 12 basic colour hues in the colour wheel, 12 men in Canadian football, 12 inches in a foot, 12 ounces in a troy pound and 12 pairs of ribs in the human body. I could go on for pages just about the number 12 but I think you get the point. The human mind needed a way to comprehend the passage of time and the number 12 kept coming up.

Why do the days seem to move faster some days and slower others? I remember during my military career that the time spent waiting in ambush seemed to last forever, whereas the time of activity was over in an instant. As I get older, the days seem to fly by. One reason is that I have seen more days than I had when I was 20, and the other reason is that I try to pack as much as I can into every day. Days seem to drag on when you are waiting for a future event if there’s not much else to fill your days. If you don’t believe me, ask any kid about the time between getting out of school and Christmas. If you want to know about time flying by, ask the same kid at the end of his summer vacation.

As we start out the new year with 31,536,000 seconds of 2016 remaining, I challenge you to live each day – don’t spend five days of your week waiting for two.

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