Yes, 2012 is a leap year, so we have an extra day to accomplish what we hope to get done this year, an extra day to appreciate what we already have. This extra day, February 29th, is also the back-up date [the “snow date”] for my book-signing talk, “Love in a Leap Year,” at the Wallkill River [NY] School of Art. Chosen by the lecture series director, the title has made me wonder: do we “fall” in love or do we “leap”? First, I fell. Twenty years later, I leaped.
Su Ting-ting, now Tina Su Cooper, my wife, my one true love, was born in a leap year, 1944, in Kunming, China. We fell in love in college. We parted tearfully in 1964, another leap year, when I graduated from Cornell, where we had fallen rapidly and deeply in love, an interracial love the “outside world” was not ready to accept. Twenty years later, 1984, another leap year, we married; we leaped joyously into it. Twenty years after that, in February of 2004, another leap year, Tina nearly died from a respiratory, and then systemic infection due to an exacerbation of her multiple sclerosis that left her quadriplegic and ventilator-dependent.
The physicians and nurses at the Orange Regional Medical Center (Middletown, NY), by saving Tina’s life, perhaps it was on February 29th, gave us not an extra day or week or month or year, but almost, so far, an extra decade, for which we are profoundly grateful. These thousands of extra days have been filled with love, laughter, happiness, caring, and occasional sadness.
The Earth revolves around the sun in such a manner that it returns to the same relative position every 365.2422 days [see http://timeanddate.com/s/3j], a little less than 365 and ¼. Thus, the day with the shortest daylight hours in the Northern Hemisphere is December 21st each year. If we did not add a day every four years, almost, that shortest day would soon become December 22, then 23rd, and so on. In a century, this winter solstice would be in mid-January, twenty-four days later. No longer would the vernal and autumnal equinoxes be March 21 and September 21, the summer and winter solstices June 21 and December 21. Our calendar and our seasons would be out of synchrony, with spring, for example, coming later and later in the calendar year. Of course, the extra day in the leap year does not add a day to our lives, just to our year. It makes the year 0.27% longer, not so much.
“Little things mean a lot” — this small leap-year adjustment keeps our seasons coming when expected: a cool September, a cold January, a blossoming April, and a warm July. The 1950’s song with that title, sung by Kitty Kallen, reminds us of that truth for our relationships: “Give me a hand when I’ve lost the way / Give me you shoulder to cry on / Whether the day is bright or gray / Give me your heart to rely on.” Such “little things” are not so small, after all.
Just as those extra Leap Year days, Leap Days, make the calendrical cycle complete, so have the extra years to be together that Tina and I have been granted made our marriage more nearly complete — without those “extra” days, weeks, months, and years, too much would have been missed.
Celebrate February 29th! Leap Year gives us an extra day this year to participate in the miracles of life and love. Perhaps, though, Leap Day should come with a warning: “look before you leap,” as love changes everything.
Douglas Winslow Cooper, Ph.D., is a freelance writer and retired physicist, author of Ting and I: A Memoir of Love, Courage, and Devotion, available from Outskirts Press, in paperback or ebook format, and from amazon.com, bn.com or the web site http://tingandi.com .