The End and The Beginning of Infinity
A new year reflection, shared in celebration of Pi Day
The onset of a new year and it began as so many gone by already did. How are we—creatures of habit, born of man, but made of everything that has ever been and will ever be, rising and falling each day as slaves to societal norms—too busy to see the earth and the universe on and in which we live as the wholeness of everything and the only thing that really matters?
On the last night of the year 2018, as in so many years before, I spent the evening among friends—great friends—in a small apartment at a small table sharing good food and great wine and stories and laughter, while the core of my being longed to be somewhere else entirely. Four minutes before midnight near the epicenter of a city of millions, we stood in front of a television set, an invention of man, watching an overpaid host dictate what the year meant. Seconds ticked away toward the end. Christina Aguilera dressed up as Lady Gaga strutted onstage in celebration and belted words to a song from her past that to me meant nothing. Fluorescent lights everywhere… on screen…overhead… in my hand. Everything felt artificial. With 60 seconds remaining, I left the company of my friends and went outside.
That morning, I had undergone the third colonoscopy in three weeks that would definitively prove the presence of cancer in my body, but at that moment, my cancer diagnosis remained unclear. From the front terrace of the apartment building, half-covered by the stairs ascending to the second level, I bathed in more fluorescent light. A dense fog blanketed the city, hazing everything caught in the unnatural orange illumination. Fireworks boomed in the distance amid car horns honking and sirens whirring. Rain fell on my head as I forwent the shelter to experience nature. Midnight arrived as I stood alone on a sidewalk with cold water dripping off my skin. My friends, dressed to go out, had ventured outside, too, but at first stayed beneath the terrace. It only took moments before they realized that what was important in that moment was not a countdown; not a descending ball of fluorescent light; not the number one song on American pop charts that year. What mattered in that moment was that something was ending, and something was beginning, and we were there, completely present within it. In the infiniteness of rotation, how do you measure and mark what is a beginning and what is an end? How did we learn to be at home among man-made comforts instead of surrounded by the wildness of nature? Does man truly think he can out-do God?
I wished to be standing under a star-filled sky looking up at billions of years gone by as yet another added to them. I wished to feel the power of the earth’s rotation, taking in the infinite existence that had to happen in order for me to be in that place, right there, right then, a part of everything that is. How can it be that I am so impossibly small, yet unfathomably important in the blanket of the universe? Everything is connected therefore everything—every little thing—matters.
The book of Ecclesiastes, chapter three, verses 14 and 15 writes, I know that whatever God does endures forever, nothing can be added to it, nor nothing taken from it. God has done this so that all should stand in awe before him. That which is, already has been; that which is to be already is, and God seeks out that which has gone by.
Consider the numbers for the chapter and verses written side-by-side, 3:14-15 and revealed are the first five digits of Pi. Surely this is no accident. Pi: 3.1415—a mathematical constant, and the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. A circle. The number does not change despite the size of the circle, nor despite the size of the universe that goes inside it. It never changes, never settles into a permanently repeating pattern. Pi: a mathematical representation of our universe. A mathematical representation of God. I am the center of a circle and within me is a spinning universe. Nothing can be added to it, and nothing can be taken from it.
New years’ traditions evolved through the blending of many cultures, including the ancient festival of Samhain, once celebrated by the Celts on October 31st, now modern-day Halloween. During the time, Celts believed a portal between the living world and the spirit world opened, and they commemorated the day by lighting giant, sacred bonfires. Dressed in costume (hence the modern-day tradition), they danced among the flames, throwing in crops and sacrificial animals with hopes the offering would protect them from evil in the new year to come. Casting all ills into the fire, Celts—who lived over 2000 years ago and whose lives depended upon an unpredictable nature to survive—believed these traditions, and the prophecies offered by the priests of the time, provided a source of comfort in the harsh winter months to come. In 45 B.C, under the rule of Julius Caesar and with the aid of Sosigenes, an Alexandrian astronomer, the new year was changed to January 1st, doing away with the following of a lunar calendar in favor of a solar one. Ever since, civilizations across the globe have counted down to a new beginning between the final seconds of December 31st and January 1st.
In a universe where everything spins and rotates around an epicenter, arguably any point in rotation can be considered a start or an end. Factually, beginning- and end-moments occur at exactly the same time, no matter where on a circle you situate. So, what then, is the point of a new year celebration at all, other than a man-made excuse to gather with loved ones in ceremony and dedicate yourself to a promise to do better this time around? On a circle, there is no such thing as forward. In essence, a new year—a new beginning, the choice to do away with what has passed in exchange for better things to come—can be celebrated at any time one chooses. And in the infiniteness of the universe, what man has made will crumble—including the calendar, including time. And all that will remain is a glow of light in space that is still visible, but long ago went out.
Therefore, let us enjoy ourselves, let us enjoy one another, for “Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is Vanity.” (Ecc 1:2) Let us consider that each moment lived is both an end and a beginning.
As I stood among dear friends, I wished to be standing in the arms of someone I loved, gazing upward, dizzied by the rotation of the ground beneath me, held in place only by gravity. I wished to be fully aware that love is the best thing—the only thing—I really have to give. But as I stood amid falling rain, infinite loneliness filled my universe because we live in a world where people push their dogs around in baby carriages, and count down to the new year by watching an overpaid host and a descending lit-up ball on a television screen without pausing to reflect upon the entirety of what is actually happening around them: An end and a beginning. Everything and nothing, all at once. A finite moment in infinite time, just like any other, that will never come around again.