If I wanted to argue that we as a people are losing our sense of wonder, I would lead with the acronym we have collectively settled on for the approaching new millennium: Y2K. I mean, really! Y2K evokes all the poetry of a license plate. We’ve managed to convert the next 1,000-year span, when the world will change in ways we can’t begin to imagine, into something about as profound as the sort of reminder a harried mechanical engineer might scrawl on his hand.
And do you find it ironic that the most immediate crisis we may face when the millennial clock rolls over is the result of an oversight most of us wouldn’t accept from a grade school student? C’mon! Did it occur to any of the geniuses brainstorming in those high-tech corridors and research parks back in the Eighties (which was not exactly the Stone Age) that the computer clocks they were devising might be two bricks, excuse me, two digits, shy of a load? (And yes, I am aware that one computer company of note did have the foresight to design a Y2K-compatible clock).
Now at this point, considering that I have just pompously dismissed the computer industry, you might be thinking that I’m more than a little full of myself. And you would be right. I willingly confess that for hours, sometimes days, on end, I strut around in my little universe feeling like I’m far and away the brightest and sharpest person I know.
In fact, I’m sure I would have garnered worldwide admiration years ago if I weren’t saddled with some minor flaws – frequent bouts of irrationality, easily hurt feelings, forgetfulness, naivete, wishful thinking, an irritating tendency to often be wrong, a powerful urge to watch television when I should be researching important issues. Due to space constraints, I’ve left out a few other minor flaws, but they’re hardly worth mentioning.
Sorry, where were we? Yeah, Y2K sounds stupid, doesn’t it? And furthermore, it’s not really the millennium anyway because back in the 16th Century Pope Gregory XIII arbitrarily "disappeared" 10 days to synchronize our present-day Gregorian calendar!
Incidentally, did I mention that I’m excited out of my gourd by the prospect of proclaiming, "Hooray, it’s the second millennium!" when I wake up on the first morning of January? Why? Probably for the same reason this "arbitrary" millennial countdown is also making you excited – because I am a genius and a fool, a wondrous blend of star matter, recycled organic detritus, and a little spark of something too mysterious to put a finger on.
Stephen Jay Gould writes in Questioning the Millennium (Harmony Books, 1997) that our "misguided millennial passion is a primary example of our uniqueness and our absurdity – in other words, of our humanity." Well said, Mr. Gould. As members of the vast sprawling family we call humanity, we have collectively become awestruck by a fast-approaching date for no rational reason other than this particular date’s cluster of three zeroes.
So rationally speaking, Jan.1, 2000, is every bit as arbitrary as a birthday, an anniversary, or any other New Year’s Day. But consider how many millions of pounds of fat have been shed, how many million packs of cigarettes have been flushed, how many millions of wedding vows have been renewed, and how many millions of lives have been reinvented on these "arbitrary" dates.
Sometimes I scare myself by reflecting too deeply on what it means to be a sentient being with an awareness of mortality trying to scrape by on a carbon-based planet. We soar and we stumble, sometimes at the same time. I try to reassure myself by assuming that some day soon we’ll high-tech our way out of this mess (and probably overlook some little detail like how to advertise our status with designer clothes when we no longer have a physical body).
In the interim I hope to continue learning at the altar of growers: those transcendent souls in a unique position to enlighten the rest of us on the grand paradox inherent in transforming compost into perfume.
By way of marking GPN’s final issue of the first millennium I’d like to first thank you for tolerating my misguided passions and unique absurdity over the past couple of years. I’d also like to recognize those among our colleagues, those within our family, and those others near and dear to us who have died within the past few months. Having come so very close to our thousand-year milestone, they will not be on hand to share in the millennial celebration.
This will be a cause for sadness. This also should be a source of comfort and strength. Let us take a moment to smile and raise a beaker of champagne, or, better yet, something bold and fruity from the biotech labs of Monsanto, in gracious thanks to these good souls. They were our guides, kind enough to accompany us this far before offering us a pat on the back and those vital but scary words we humans both yearn and fear to hear: "You’re on your own now."