One Day More

There was evening and there was morning, the first day. The usual order of morning and evening was reversed in the Genesis creation story, perhaps because it was dark to begin with, without form and void. Then God turned the lights on, and it was suddenly morning. The Lord spoke these words before doing the deed: “Let there be light.” His words gave shape to creation, separating light from darkness, firmament from waters and waters from dry land.· There was evening and morning, a second day, then a third and a fourth. And although the story never said so, the world must have kept turning the whole time. The work of creation kept God busy for six days, then there was evening and morning a seventh day, and he took the day off.

Morning has followed evening more than one trillion times since God (or whatever it was) first set the world spinning over 4.5 billion years ago. You’d think the Earth would have slowed down a bit in all that time, since the only thing keeping it turning is inertia. And, as a matter of fact, it has slowed down. But you would have to live a very long time to notice much difference, since the length of a day increases by only about 1.8 milliseconds every century. Yet if you had been around in the Neoproterozoic era, some 620 million years ago, you’d know that an evening and a morning would zip by in only about 22 hours.

If you were suddenly transported back to the Neoproterozoic era, you might find yourself suffering from permanent jet lag, which is what happens when your body’s circadian rhythms get out of synch with the local time. In this case, your body would have to adjust to a 22-hour day. Noontime for your body would become midnight every six days, and vice versa. Your body would quickly lose any sense of what is evening and what is morning on any given day — when to go to sleep, when to wake up, when to eat. You would quickly become disoriented, both mentally and physically.

We know this because controllers and engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have suffered the effects of jet lag while working remotely on Mars time with some of the Martian landers on the surface of that planet. A Martian day is 39 minutes and 35 seconds longer than ours. That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s the equivalent of flying two time zones westward every three days. It’s enough that the crews at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory began experiencing sleepiness, irritability and loss of concentration — not a good thing when you are working with delicate machinery remotely on another planet.

All plant and animal life on earth is governed down to the cellular level by circadian rhythms that are synchronized with the daily circuit of the planet on its axis. These internal mechanisms tell plants what season it is, when to flower and when to germinate. They control body temperature in animals, along with cardiovascular function, metabolism, feeding behavior and sleep patterns. This is true of the mayfly that lives only for a day and of human beings, who are built for the long haul.

Long haul or not, there is a body of wisdom stating that our proper focus should be on what happens today. “Take therefore no thought for the morrow,” Jesus advised in the Sermon on the Mount, “for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself.” Jesus did not mean we should live as if there were no tomorrow. He hastened to add, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” By this he was suggesting that life is apportioned to us day by day, so there is no sense in getting ahead of ourselves.

The world keeps turning, more than 27,000 times since it began turning for me, albeit a tad more slowly now. There have been good days and bad days (sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof). It goes without saying that fewer days lie ahead than lie behind. But that need not concern me. I have learned to take things a day at a time. I know that if I make it through today, there will be evening and morning, a new day.

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