The earth goes around the sun every 365.242199 days. But because of our human predisposition to integers — and our innate need to stay in the good graces of the rest of the solar system — we add a day to the calendar every fourth year.
Time has always been serious business, so much so that papal adjustments to the calendar during the Middle Ages often sparked revolts by people who believed the Church was literally stealing their time.
Thank God we’ve mellowed with time, most of us have become generally content with living in a chronologically logical post-Enlightenment world, and we no longer freak out over fear of temporal larceny.
But perhaps we should have higher expectations for that day every four years when we actually gain some time. The termLeap Year suggests alone that February 29 should be an exceptional day. Why not take this day and use it for something exceptional like volunteering?
Even though February 29, 2012, is buried in the middle of the week, let’s make the most of this astronomical anomaly. I’m not advocating anything monumental like a global work stoppage or an international pillow fight, but we should at least try to answer the question: How will I leap this year?
Leap Day could be the do-over after New Year’s — a chance to look back and look forward and to make resolutions free from the influence of alcohol and dropping balls.
I’ve spent the better part of my professional adult life mobilizing and coordinating volunteers, and I wouldn’t trade the experience for all the Ts in Tim Tebow. Volunteerism can transcend time and space and class and race to change for the better both our communities and ourselves.
But most often volunteering illuminates a different common denominator among people — that the majority of us don’t do it.
That’s not intended as a harsh criticism. Most of us have a drive to serve and see the needs that surround us. It’s just difficult to turn rhetoric into reality, aspirations into action, and values into value. Time is serious business, and it often gets in the way.
Most of us already don’t spend as much time as we should sleeping or chewing our food, so we have to make the time for the things that are truly important.
This year, though, we get that gift of the extra day. So, on February 29 (Can we call it “Solar Compliance Day?”), let’s put aside our jealousy of all the babies born that day who will age four times slower than the general population. And let’s resolve to better allocate our most scarce and precious resource.
This may sound like a very adult thing to do, but I’m actually taking a page from the book of my new friend Maya, a precocious kindergartner at the Dixon School in Detroit.
Like me, Maya loves to read and has trouble sitting still. She gets especially restless when she finds herself pages ahead of her classmates — when she has already said good night to the moon while her 32 classmates are still sitting in chairs with three little bears.
I met Maya through a Repair the World literacy program, which pairs volunteers with kids who need a little extra attention in the classroom. But in reality, Maya has graciously volunteered to expend some of her extra energy by reading to me for a morning a week. She may not realize it, but her service is sharing childhood of brightening the otherwise dreary day of an adult.
Last week, Maya and I got to spend the better part of an hour reading together in the morning. We went at our own pace, seeing Spot run at a sprint and then pausing to be curious with George.
And by the time I got to my office and had to face the little hiccups that inevitably fill grownup afternoons, I felt more inclined to make way for ducklings than snarl with a Grinchly sneer.
I have a hunch the same was true for Maya.
I’m willing to bet that if we all took some time on Leap Day (and beyond) to work with others, we’d find that spending it trying to solve problems other than our own will make the traffic seem just a little less jammed and the birds seem a little less angry.
Or who knows? If we all leap at once, we might just change the rotation of the earth.
Ben Falik is the manager of Detroit Service Initiatives for Repair the world, the national service arm of the Jewish community. Learn more about Repair at weRepair.org or on Twitter @repairtheworld.