Nothing is perfect, except for the perfect things. It does not take a precise 24 hours and zero minutes and zero seconds for the earth to complete one spin on its axis; it takes slightly longer, but not so much longer that you could even call it a “tick.”
The earth’s rotation each day is only a tiny fraction of a millisecond slower than what we otherwise call a day, but these partial seconds can eventually add up. Twenty-six times since 1972, the international bureau of standards that handles time issues has added a “leap second” to all of our lives. The last year with a leap second was 2015, so if that year felt longer for you, there is a reason: It was. By one second. Clocks everywhere could have read “11:59:60” at midnight the night of the leap second, but they did not because no one makes clocks that do that.
The next leap second will delay the arrival of 2017 immediately before midnight on December 31.
If it was not for those leap seconds—and, every four years, leap days—our clocks and calendars would slide and slip all over the place compared to what they are measuring; if not for leap days, eventually New Englanders would be confronted with a frigid July and the dog days of December, and vice versa for the Southern Hemisphere.
What our clocks and calendars are measuring is perfect: a year is X number of seconds, days, months, but not the same every year. The earth’s orbit is regular and perfect, but it is not precisely 365 days every year. It is almost 365 days, and a day is almost exactly 24 hours in length, and we live with the compromises we call clocks and calendars. The ancients came as close to exactly right simply from observation as they could—to within seconds for a day and minutes for a year.
The clock makers and the calendar printers, heck even the bureaus of standards that decide how to measure things, regularly make adjustments to the ways we mark the passage of time. Everything, even time, needs a semi-regular do-over, a Mulligan.
The Mulligan is a very specific rule in golf—a rule that does not exist in a place called reality—which states that “sometimes rules do not apply,” so do-overs do exist in the universe. Of course, my friends and I found ways to bend even this non-rule. In informal golf, friendly noncompetitive golf between or among noncompetitors, if one hits an egregious drive (if? when, in my case), a drive that everyone agrees there may be no recovery from, everyone might also agree to grant that player a do-over. That is a Mulligan shot. He or she does not get another one for the remainder of the day, even if the Mulligan, the replacement shot, was worse or if an even worse drive came off their club later on. My friends and I came up with the “retro Mulligan,” in which a player kept his or her Mulligan in the bag if that had turned out to be a worse shot. That was our contribution to the world of golf and the world of do-overs, and it was super-secret, I think. The “retro Mulligan” was the only Mulligan that a player truly had only one of, and using it erased it and the Mulligan.
As an idea, the Mulligan is forgiveness from the universe, a creative admission that there is a better version of what you just did still available in you. There is a better version of you. The retro Mulligan concedes that sometimes we grab a do-over prematurely in life. There is a saner version of a better version of you.
I have a perfectionist streak that I am striving to lose, because I can not be the best version of myself by placing perfect in my path. Perfectionism leads to procrastination, then paralysis. All those leap seconds and leap days, I needed every last one of them to get to where I am today. And I expect I will need every leap second and leap day yet to come, because I am keeping the retro Mulligan in my golf bag of life. Every second counts. Sometimes twice.
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