In which I go through some sort of emotional growth about Senate Bill S.623

I woke up two Sundays ago and texted around a half dozen people “happy daylight savings time” – none of them wished me a “happy daylight savings time” in return. My brother replied with “isnt this the sad one” It turns out he was right.

The start and end of Daylight Saving Time are holidays – for me, at least. Every year I try to stay up and watch the clocks change. And when I wake up, I get to go around the house and change the ones that didn’t! This was a yearly tradition growing up for me and I still look forward to it whenever it happens. It’s Christmas morning — but twice a year.

In the house where I grew up, we had an analog clock in our living room. Black and white, round, three-handed: one for seconds, one for minutes, and one for hours. I really don’t know how else to describe it — it’s an analog clock. I’m sure you have one that’s similar. But this clock is better than yours: in the spring, at the start of Daylight Saving Time, the hands move very quickly from 1:59 AM to 3:00 AM. In the fall, they freeze at 2:00 AM for an hour.

This year I accidentally fell asleep a quarter to two. I had no idea that it could have been one of the last chances in my life to witness the time spring forward.

Pi Day fell on the following Monday. I got to lab later than usual but was still one of the first arrive. People would slowly trickle in in the next couple of hours, lamenting their lost hour of sleep.

In elementary and middle school, Pi Day seemed to be a much bigger deal. A lot of things seemed to be a bigger deal as a kid, like time. And also volcanoes and airplanes and Club Penguin, but those aren’t too relevant right now. I have always been fascinated with time — thresholds, especially. I like being present as one day rolls over to the next, as a year turns into another.

One of my earliest memories involves crossing a time threshold. It was a Friday in third grade, I think. We spent all evening driving to my aunt and uncle’s house in Las Vegas. Thanks to traffic we arrived well past midnight, but my grandma was still up and let us in. Old people sleep at weird times; my grandpa would always wake up 5 AM and he also had two secret families. We were in the kitchen when I noticed the digital clock on the wall.

It’s so hard to describe clocks; I can’t believe I have to do it again. This one was digital, like I said. Gray, square, and three-paneled: one for the time, one for the weather, and one for the date. What the clock looked like wasn’t as important was what it read: 1:12 AM, maybe (but there’s no way I have that level of recall). I pointed this out to my parents, commenting that it was tomorrow. They told me I was right; it was indeed tomorrow.

It’s been tomorrow a lot for me recently. As I write this sentence, my alarm clock tells me it’s 21 minutes to tomorrow. I’ve been staying up pretty late. There’s so much to do and so little time; I don’t want to waste any of it being asleep. I love springing forward.

Tuesday was March 15th – the Ides of March. The betrayal of the Roman Senators against Julius Caesar two millennia ago would be nothing compared to the way my Senators betrayed me on this day.

PUBLIUS
Good morrow, Caesar.
CAESAR
Welcome, Publius.
What, Brutus, are you stirr’d so early too?
Good morrow, Casca. Caius Ligarius,
Caesar was ne’er so much your enemy
As that same ague which hath made you lean.
What is ‘t o’clock?
BRUTUS
Caesar, ’tis strucken eight.

William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act II, Scene II

Senior year of high school, I got an A in AP English Literature when we read Julius Caesar, so I’m more qualified than anyone to shed some light on this scene: Caesar is surprised that Brutus is up at this time (probably to kill him later, but I have no idea; I only skimmed the play), but Brutus tells him that it’s already eight o’clock! Because Caesar had forgotten the clocks had sprung forward the night before, he thought that it was only seven o’clock and was shocked that Brutus “stirr’d so early.” Maybe.

Julius Caesar possibly tells the story of a group of Senators disgruntled by the start of Daylight Saving Time. History repeats itself.

Our republic is modeled after the Romans’ and our founding fathers argued for a bicameral legislature — for the inclusion of a Senate alongside a House of Representatives — on the basis that one chamber would temper the other. They were wrong, I think.

The necessity of a senate is not less indicated by the propensity of all single and numerous assemblies to yield to the impulse of sudden and violent passions, and to be seduced by factious leaders into intemperate and pernicious resolutions. 

Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, The Federalist Papers: The Senate

On Tuesday, March 15th, 2022, Bill S.623: the Sunshine Protection Act of 2021 was laid before the Senate, moved out of committee, amended, and passed all by unanimous consent in a matter of hours. It seems that all it took for our Senators “yield to the impulse of sudden and violent passions” and pass an “intemperate and pernicious resolution” was one less hour of sleep, two nights ago.

I thought I was the bearer of bad news on Wednesday, telling everyone of the Sunshine Protection Act. I don’t know what I expected from my friends, but it certainly wasn’t joy. 

I’ve talked to so many people this week and not one single person seemed to be as distressed about this development as I was; they’re mostly glad to never have to spring forward again.

I didn’t like losing an hour of sleep either. But it’s a good reminder of the limits of our power. Humans have so much control over the other dimensions of our existence; from a Saturn S (car) to the Saturn V (rocket), we can traverse such great distances on and off our planet, but we are confined in time. It marches forward at a second per second, an hour per hour, a day per day – except when it doesn’t twice a year. And also on leap days. And sometimes on leap seconds too.

It’s hard to recall another singular day that has had a large of an impact on my life as this — perhaps my birth. I was born in February, so if we remain on Daylight Saving Time permanently, I won’t lose just an hour of sleep — I’ll lose an hour of life too. That sounds profound, but I was born in Vietnam, which is UTC+7, so I’ve actually gained fourteen hours in total if I die on Pacific Daylight Time. But I could have gained fifteen.

It’s really hard to defend Daylight Saving Time when its start in the spring is linked to “increased risk of adverse cardiovascular events, mood disorders, and motor vehicle crashes,” according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. There’s also so much more. My position is untenable to be sure. I could wax poetic about humanity’s power over time or about our fear of change, but I just think it’s really fun. It’s neat when the time changes and I’m sad that it may only happen twice more in my life.

My entire outfit – save the socks – was green on Thursday, St. Patrick’s Day. I normally don’t care this much, but if this week has taught me anything it’s that nothing is permanent.

By some act of Congress, we could as easily lose St. Patrick’s Day or Halloween or Christmas as we did Daylight Saving Time. That’s it. This poster child of the slippery slope fallacy was my only reason for putting on shorts in 40 degree weather to wear all green on Thursday — I also thought it would be funny.

That’s why I do most of things I do, but that’s not why I wrote this essay. I have genuinely been distressed ever since I heard the news that could be going to Daylight Saving Time permanently and that I would lose my biannual time changes. Maybe I should talk to someone about it.

Irena is an MD-PhD student, has done sleep research in the past, and keeps a notoriously bad sleep schedule (though schedule isn’t a word I’d use to describe it). She’s also my friend but that’s beside the point. Irena is more qualified to talk about this than anyone else I can contact with such minimal effort. I ask for her thoughts on the new Senate bill.

Two days later she texts me her Daily Squardle #44 score (I have never heard of Squardle in my life), alongside her thoughts on the matter. We get into the usual back and forth about the whole thing — for how much I have this argument I really don’t have any good points to make. I tell her that I think it’s fun. She replies pensively, “hmm”

I was walking home on Friday afternoon when I noticed the cherry blossoms – just three trees, tucked into a clearing by a small footpath, dwarfed by towering big-cone pines and coast redwoods.

It’s spring now. Or will be soon. That’s never really meant much to me. There was never much to mark the passage of seasons in southern California. Equinoxes and solstices were just days on a calendar that tied me to time.

Now I have seasons. I see these trees nearly every day on my walk to and from campus. When I got here in the summer, I saw their branches full of leaves. As fall fell, they turned from green to orange to red. And as soon as winter arrived, the leaves left. Now spring has sprung and maybe this whole thing doesn’t matter that much after all. No matter what how much we play with the clocks, the seasons will come and go; time will march on. It’ll be fine.

Today in lab, Chris flipped open a copy of The Hobbit to chapter five — the one with the riddles — and handed it to me:

This thing all things devours:

Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;

Gnaws iron, bites steel;

Grinds hard stone to meal;

Slays king, ruins town,

And beats high mountain down.

J. R. R. Tolkein, The Hobbit

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