Ten Days Erased from History
October 11, 2022
In today’s world people are more connected than ever to time. We hardly go anywhere without our phones or there being a clock of some sort telling us the exact time, often down to the 100th of a second.
Yet, there are also moments in our lives when we lose track of time. Maybe a few minutes here and there. An hour or two. Possibly even a day.
But to lose ten whole days requires a pretty major event.
This singular event, which took place in October 1582, corrected a worldwide problem over 1200 years in the making. Imagine this: you go to bed on October 4th and you wake up and it’s now October 15.
Like last week’s post, you might think it could only happen in The Twilight Zone. But the ten days between those two dates in 1582 were, literally, erased from the calendar as though they never happened.
What was ushered in was a new calendar which we still follow 440 years later. The Infallible Wikipedia helpfully tells us:
“The Gregorian calendar is the calendar used in most parts of the world. It was introduced in October 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII as a modification of, and replacement for, the Julian calendar. The principal change was to space leap years differently so as to make the average calendar year 365.2425 days long, more closely approximating the 365.2422-day ‘tropical’ or ‘solar’ year that is determined by the Earth’s revolution around the Sun. (snip)
There were two reasons to establish the Gregorian calendar. First, the Julian calendar assumed incorrectly that the average solar year is exactly 365.25 days long, an overestimate of a little under one day per century, and thus has a leap year every four years without exception. The Gregorian reform shortened the average (calendar) year by 0.0075 days to stop the drift of the calendar with respect to the equinoxes.”
Use of the Julian calendar had caused many problems, not the least of which being that the seasons no longer aligned with the longest and shortest days of the year or the spring or autumn equinoxes.
The most innovative part of the calendar adjustment had to do with the calculation of leap years. Since we experience a 366 day year once every four years, leap years were the perfect vehicle to make adjustments.
So every four years we gain a day… except when we don’t. If the leap year is set to occur in a ‘century’ year (1800, 1900, 2000, etc) then there is NOT a leap year. But with one exception. Any ‘century’ year which can be divided by 400 IS a leap year. Which is why the year 2000 was a leap year but 2100, 2200, and 2300 will NOT be. The next ‘century’ leap year does not occur until 2400.
In thinking about those ten days simply being erased got me thinking about a few times in my own life when time lost all meaning and a series of days squished together without definition.
There were several times when severe illness did that for me. An allergic reaction to penicillin in the sixth grade caused me to miss the Central Washington Fair as I lay in bed for a week and half; contracting the hard measles the year I was in 8th grade (https://barbaradevore.com/2020/03/03/seasons-in-the-sun/); The two weeks I came home from college in January of 1978 with the chicken pox; and, more recently, in late February 2020 when I had Covid 19.
But there was one particular event which occurred when the whole world seemed to stop for ten days. I had been in Yakima in September and October 2019 nearly full time as my Dad’s health deteriorated and he had been placed on hospice. Although I had returned home for a couple days, the call came from the hospice that the end was approaching.
My message to my siblings from Tuesday, October 15, 2019:
“Dad is in bed now and minimally responsive. He is not opening his eyes on command. The only time he does respond is when the staff needs to take care of his physical needs such as changing him, etc. He dislikes being touched although he did let her hold his hand. But he does not want to be rubbed, etc.
His BP is still good and he still has some fight left in him…. However, Lecia (the hospice nurse) said she expects him to pass within the next few days and would be surprised if he makes it through the weekend.”
As it turned out Lecia, and everyone else, were completely wrong.
Dad had slipped into a comatose state… and remained that way for a total of ten days. Over the course of those days, all of his children and various family members came to see him.
It was a weird scene. Dad lay in bed, eyes closed, unresponsive, as family visited and reminisced. And he hung on. Day after day. Night after night. Every day the caregivers at Apple Creek (a wonderful and caring place!) were baffled by how long he was able to survive without food or water. His mouth was moistened with an oral sponge on a stick.
Time morphed into episodes of light and dark and lost all meaning. Eventually, family members had to return to their lives and, on the last few days, it was just three of us – my brother, my sister, and me – who were there, taking turns in our vigil.
My sister and I did two ‘overnights’ together, each using one of the recliners so we could sleep.
Finally, a night arrived where, due to her job as teacher and the need to make lesson plans for the substitute, my sister could not stay overnight. So I volunteered to take on the duty solo. When I fell asleep that night, I could not have told you the date or the time. All I know is that I was going to be there with dad.
Then, around 4 a.m., things started to change. In those ten days of sameness dad never moved, never ate, never talked, never drank. It was just always the same.
Except that when, suddenly, it was no longer the same. At the moment of death, an electric impulse vibrated through his entire body for several seconds, his whole being coming to life; it was as if it was his final resistance to death.
When it was over I knew I had experienced something extraordinary; even so I was shaken by the ordeal. And yet the first thing I did after that event was to look at the clock and note the time and the day.
It was 5:06 a.m. on Thursday, October 24. As surely as the ten days which were erased in October 1582, so had time been reset for me in October 2019.