This past Saturday, September 22, 2018, the autumnal equinox occurred at 9:54 p.m. As I understand it, at that moment the sun’s position in relationship to earth resulted in equal hours of day and night. The orbit of the earth around the sun predicts this reliable occurrence twice a year. After the fall equinox, days gradually shorten, as nights lengthen until we reach the winter solstice, when the pattern reverses. Days gradually lengthen again heading toward the vernal equinox. And so on, year after year after year until who knows? On the equinoxes I sense the balance and feel comforted. I love nature’s dependable pattern. I wondered whether the equinox might hold secrets to comprehending life.
Yin and Yang
I suspect the security I get from the balance of night and day reflects the Chinese philosophy of Yin and Yang. In the symbol, Yin is represented by black, Yang by white. Yin lies in the shade, Yang in the sun. Because the St. Lawrence River is so integral to our family’s lives, I especially connect with the idea that Yin represents the south bank of a river, Yang the north bank. Within each is a small circle, a seed, of the opposite. According to myth, as the sun gradually moves across the sky, Yin is revealed in light, Yang is shadowed. In this way the sun reveals what was concealed and obscures what was formerly exposed. Like the equinox, change and reorder repeat. It’s comforting to think that I will eventually understand the meaning of events from the dark parts of life. Plus, Yin and Yang represent opposite or contrary forces that may actually be interconnected. I suppose that explains why I am always searching for the positive in adversity. Maybe we see evidence of those opposing forces when a child’s birth occurs near a loved one’s death; or
for example, my mom’s death on my dad’s birthday.
On the equinox a day becomes equally divided into halves of dark and light. I considered at length the concept of halves. I found plenty of negativity in the language: half-baked, half-breed, half-cooked, half-empty, half-hearted, half-pint, half-starved, half-truth, and half-wit. With uncharacteristic pessimism I had to admit that I passed life’s half-way point a while ago. If today were half-way, I would live to be 130 years old. None of us has any idea when life’s half-way point occurs. If we did I doubt we would see life as half-begun rather than half-over. Even so, in the cliché I see the glass as half-full. With fewer years ahead than behind, I feel the need to find a seed of positive.
When financial planners attempt to explain retirement, they use perfectly rounded hypothetical numbers, easy to calculate. For the sake of examining my life by halves, I am choosing 100 years as my hypothetical life span. (Yes, that is exactly why I am accused of having rose-colored glasses.) Using 100 as my life’s target, it’s simple to identify the half-way point. On my 50th birthday I sat in one of my Saturday doctoral classes at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, on track to achieve one of my life’s goals. I could not have choreographed a more fulfilling life equinox.
Using a mathematical approach, I can re-calibrate my remaining 35 years into halves of positivism. I took another look back, and identified the year I would say I became an autonomous, independent adult: 1985, age 32. I used that age, subtracted it from 100, divided by two. Added the quotient of 34 to 32. According to my calculations, as a self-directed adult, I will just be hitting my half-way point at age 66. Next, I took my retirement age, 62, subtracted that from 100, divided by two, and figured I still have 16 years left before I reach the half-way point in my writing career. So now I have learned the physics of half-lives and I intend to apply those ad infinitum.
A Turning Point
The Equinox marks the change in seasons, at least by our calendar. In northern New York we know a turning point in the weather will soon follow: the first frost or the first snow. This week’s essay becomes number 27 of 52, the first past the mid-point, one that feels like a turning point. To me reaching a half-way mark offers assurance that a destination will be reached, a goal accomplished, a project completed. Of course in life, I am in no rush to make it to the final conclusion. Yet I have defined 65 as a turning point. Because what follows must surpass what I have already done. Reed referred to this recently in his own striving toward goals, “Raising the bar.” As the weeks diminish toward the conclusion of my year’s commitment, I expect new possibilities to arise; an advance and retreat, forces that complement, Yin and Yang. I will discover a new set of projects, a fresh time-line, a recalculated half-life, my familiar cycle.
Today is the equinox of PowerAgers, the half-way spot. I can relax a little, relish the balance. Many years ago, my friend, Edana, and I each wrote a list of life goals. A few years later, surprised that I had mastered the list, I composed a new one. Having a fresh list of unfinished pursuits gives me the illusion that I am perpetually in the first half of life. I already feel the exhilaration of new challenges.