It was 1974 when Marilyn Sellars first recorded the song ‘One Day at a Time.” The song was written by Wilkin and Kristofferson. Many artists have since recorded it. It resonates today forty years later. The message is simple – take it one day at a time. But I believe there is a deeper reason why this message means so much to us because the more complex we become the more simplicity seems to make sense.
Most people think of Groundhog Day as a bad thing. Probably they haven’t watched the movie or have forgotten the message. Groundhog Day starts with the protagonist stuck in a circle of hell. Then he realises he can turn it to his selfish advantage – but this only works out in the short term. He still doesn’t get the girl. He then realises that he can convert the fact that every day is the same day to his advantage and the benefit of those around him and his community – thus creating an amazingly powerful positive feedback loop. Then he gets what he wants. Groundhog Day is not about being stuck in the same day, it is the realisation that there is only this day – but that’s a really good thing if you can grasp it.
Janis Joplin need only be quoted: “It’s all the same fucking day, man.” We still love you, Janis. No one should die at 27.
Then we come to the mother of all quotations, the biblical variety: “Sufficient unto the day the evils thereof.” As with all biblical passages there are seven (approximately) layers of interconnected meanings skillfully interwoven. The meaning is deliciously vague yet frustratingly ephemeral.
Modern doctors have also realised the fundamental nature of the human day. Eight cups of water a day; forty-five minutes of exercise a day; five fruit and vegetables each day; eight to nine hours of sleep each day; three meals a day; number of cigarettes of glasses of wine each day. Statistics on fundamental human behaviour focus also on the day: how many hours a day are spent watching TV or reading or using a smartphone?
A reasonable conclusion to take from these different sources would be that there is something very special about the day as a unit of time for a human being. The day to human life is like the metre to length. A metre is a nice length to get you up and running. I can show it between my two out-stretched hands yet it is big enough so that one thousand of them is a significant distance unless we are discussing light years.
The day is the correct base unit of human life as the metre is the unit of length. Our fundamental cycles of human maintenance all take place as daily cycles. Eating, bathing, waking, sleeping are daily. Learning is as fundamental to human life as these things. Work too. Shouldn’t work and study also therefore be daily? And why are they not?
Actually, they are – outside of modern industrial urban society. A problem with modern living is that days are disrupted and distributed. This begins in your life when you begin school. Up to that point, your life revolved like clockwork around a regular daily schedule. Suddenly this changes. Now you have these different kinds of days: school days, weekends and holidays. The sun comes up, you wake up, you eat three times, have a bowel movement, do something active, the sun goes down and you go back to bed. Same as every day. Except now there are these distinctly different days. You could be working, or recovering from working, or just simply not working at all. This must be a major shock to the system for a small child. For five years – the only five years you’ve ever had – there was only the day, always the same day. Then you’re put in school and you’ll have to wait another sixty years before you get to go back to every day is the same fucking day – even if it obviously is, you still have pretend it’s not. Night and day is the ultimate distinction for life on earth. It seems strange to point that out it being so essential – yet I think it needs to be done. Good and evil, yin and yang, night and day. It’s a concept worth revisiting.
Modern schooling is separating children from this fundamental reality of human life. We should be teaching and modeling to children that the only things which really matter are the things that you do every day. Yes, every day. What you do every day, that’s who and what you are. Anything you do once a week or once a month or once a year or even from Monday to Friday – that’s extra, not fundamental. As I write, next Tuesday is Christmas. Decorate the house, eat great food and exchange gifts with friends and family – brilliant! What could be better? But it’s not what you fundamentally are; it’s an exception. We should tell children that your day is you; you are your day. If you want to be successful at anything, you must make it part of your day (yes, again, every day!) and that will become who you are. Ask anyone who was ever successful at anything.
Anything you do that you are looking forward to not doing for a couple of days or for a few weeks – think long and hard about those things.
All you need is one day. Love helps but what you really need is a day.