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If you feel like presidential election years – with their endless ads for competing candidates – are longer than other years … well, you’re right. And Saturday – known as leap day – proves it.
Feb. 29 usually arrives every four years, when an extra day is inserted into our calendar to keep our days synchronized with the solar year. The day is needed because it takes Earth 365.24 days to complete its annual journey around the sun. Those extra hours add up to an extra day of the year every four years.
Leap years were first added to the calendar we still use today in 46 B.C. during the reign of Roman Emperor Julius Caesar, who didn’t have to worry about elections, primaries, or raising money for TV ads.
According to historians, these years are called “leap years” because the adjustment causes the calendar to jump a day. In other words, March 1 was on Friday in 2019 – but leaped over Saturday and is on Sunday this year.
Outside of the calendar, to leap conjures up a wide range of thoughts and memories. At 47, I don’t leap with the same agility or grace that I did as a boy.
Back then, I’d leap from our stairs to the second floor into the living room. And I’d leap off the top of the Friel’s chain-link fence, which I climbed countless times to retrieve balls that bounced into their yard.
The thought of leaping nowadays makes me a little nervous – who wants to twist an ankle or throw out their back? When I run Colorado’s rock-strewn trails, which I love to do, I lumber more than I leap.
But what about metaphorical leaping, as in taking a chance, reaching for something just a bit outside my grasp – dreaming and then setting a big goal and actually going for it?
Our presidential candidates take advantage of leap years in this way. The years give them an extra day to campaign and take a leap of faith that they will survive the long and grueling competition to be chosen by the American people as our nation’s leader.
Others leap high as well, not knowing how they will fare. When American astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969 he famously said: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Recalling the historic leap later, Armstrong said “the unknowns were rampant” and “there were just a thousand things to worry about.” Thankfully, the astronauts were able to return home safely after leaping to the moon.
For those of us who never leave Earth, there are all kinds of reasons why we don’t leap – from the threat of lawsuits to the allure of a comfortable pension. But in 21st century America, I think risk is often frowned upon. Sadly, it’s the safe route that’s routinely encouraged and even rewarded.
I suspect we’ve all had bosses or others tell us not to rock the boat – but sailing is a lot more fun and exciting when we ride the waves rather than sit idly, tethered to the dock.
My nature is conservative, both politically and practically. I tend to revel in routine, from my morning regimen to my choice of lunch – two turkey sandwiches with avocado.
But if I’m honest with myself, the most rewarding and thrilling times of my life have come when I shook free from the predictable – when I took a leap – and figured out how to fly on the way down.
When I was in my mid-20s I left home and resigned from what I thought was a safe and secure job in New York and headed West, first to graduate school and then onto Colorado Springs. It made me very nervous – but in hindsight, it was a great leap.
I never would have met my wife or enjoyed the same professional and ministerial opportunities had I remained on Long Island.
And that so-called safe job I gave up? It was eliminated a few years later as part of the massive downsizing experienced by the newspaper industry.
Price Pritchett is a psychologist and expert in the science of human performance. A bestselling author, he talks passionately about taking “quantum leaps” in our life that involve taking and making dramatic – even paradoxical – changes, often defying conventional wisdom.
As I understand his main premise, most of us believe that the secret to getting ahead is to just work harder. But doing more of the same thing often gives us more of the same thing.
The good life is full of leaps of all kinds. Believing in God, solidifying a relationship with marriage, raising kids, pursuing a dream, starting a business – all of those decisions involve a form of risk.
“The person who risks nothing does nothing, has nothing, is nothing, and becomes nothing,” said the late Leo Buscaglia, a professor and popular writer in the late 1900s.
The British poet W.H. Auden was another academic who wrote about the critical nature of taking chances in his 1940 poem “Leap Before You Look.” The poem begins:
“The sense of danger must not disappear:
The way is certainly both short and steep,
However gradual it looks from here;
Look if you like, but you will have to leap.”
What if those of us drawn to the rhythms and comforts of familiar habits decided in this leap year of 2020 to take that chance – to leap in faith and try to fly high?
I’m in – please let me know if you are, too. I’d consider it an honor to root and pray for you.