Shining like a light house in the gloomy, stormy seas of the coronavirus is the promise of Easter Sunday, a day of rebirth, renewal, and resurrection.
Ironically, in the United States, Easter begins on the American Territory of Guam (“Where America’s Day Begins,” because of time zone configuration) and where the aircraft carrier, USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) is currently in partial quarantine because of the coronavirus.
Since we were kicked out of the Philippines in 1992 and as the Japanese are complaining more and more every day about our presence on Okinawa, the island of Guam has become our most strategic military asset west of Hawaii.
I’ve spent a good bit of time on Guam, and it’s not surprising that authorities are placing the quarantined Roosevelt sailors into civilian hotels, because there’re not many vacant beds available at the Naval Station.
There’re probably some, however, at Andersen Air Force Base at the other end of the island. Back during the Vietnam War, I used to watch the B-52 Stratofortresses take off from there on their bombing runs along Route 1 during Operation Arc Light.
Today, luckily, Guam has lots of first-rate hotels as it is a favorite honeymoon destination for newly-weds from mainland Japan.
The PX on the Guam Naval Base was the only place I know of in the world where you could buy a genuine Rolex watch at rock-bottom prices, even cheaper than the factory outlet in Singapore.
If your shipmates heard that you were about to transit through Guam, they would load you down with orders for “Submariners,” “GMT Masters,” and “Oyster Perpetuals.”
Leaving the island, I’d be carrying so many watches I’d feel like one of those furtive, itinerate watch salesmen in Times Square, or maybe some back street in Pusan, selling knock-off designer watches out of my inside coat pockets, except mine were real and they were already paid for.
Today, you’d never get through Customs.
As an aside, I’m totally ashamed to learn that Big Navy has just fired the CO of the Roosevelt for standing up for his crew during the coronavirus pandemic.
When you think of Easter, a kaleidoscope of memories floods your mind – where you were in a particular year, what you were doing, who you were with, what they said.
My default is about going to church early on Easter Sunday at Carnes Missionary Baptist Church in southern Forrest County with my mama when I was a boy. She didn’t drive, but I did, although I was only about 11 or 12 years old. I could barely see over the steering wheel or reach the clutch and brake pedals of the truck, but they say that God watches over children and fools, so I guess I had double coverage.
Another Easter memory is of a sunrise service onboard my ship in Pearl Harbor.
We were anchored in the lee of the Battleship Arizona wreckage, before it became a national monument, and the service commenced just as the sun was rising over Ford’s Island.
Although I was just a kid, I knew enough about history to know that it was on such a Sunday morning in 1941, but in December, that the Japanese Zeros came roaring in, fast and low.
I’m afraid I didn’t pay much attention to the service, lost as I was in imagining what that “Day of Infamy,” as President Roosevelt called it, must have been like. I can also remember some Easter Sundays that I’d just as soon forget.
Some want to marginalize Easter by majoring on its faintly pagan origins, although it’s well-known that early Christians often appropriated pagan holidays in order to more efficiently spread the faith.
Others get caught up in the secular trappings of bunny rabbits, egg hunts, and egg rolls on the White House lawn; but worldwide, hundreds of millions of Christians will celebrate Easter as a day commemorating the resurrection of Jesus Christ, one of the basic, if not the most important, tenets of the Christian faith.
However you see it, as a paramount religious holiday, or simply as a marker of seasonal change, Easter offers hope for a new beginning.
You might have noticed that the date of Easter changes every year.
That’s because it’s a so-called “moveable feast day,” a designation given to a religious holy day for which a permanent date is not set, as opposed to Christmas, etc.
In 325 AD, the Council of Nicaea determined that Easter would be observed on the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after the vernal equinox.
Of course, this gets a little more complicated when you have to deal with two calendar systems: the Western (Gregorian) and the Eastern (Julian) which primarily affects members of the Eastern Orthodox Church,
So, what is the vernal equinox? Actually, this newspaper now has a science columnist, a professor at USM who could explain it better but, simply put, as the earth revolves around the sun, there are two moments each year when the sun is exactly above the equator.
These moments, called equinoxes, occur around March 20 or 21 and September 22 or 23. Equinox literally means “equal night,” since the length of day and night is nearly equal in all parts of the world during the equinoxes.
The March equinox marks when the Northern Hemisphere starts to tilt toward the sun, which means longer summer days.
In this hemisphere, it is called the vernal equinox, because it signals the beginning of spring (vernal means “fresh,” hence renewal or rebirth.) The September equinox is called the autumnal equinox because it marks the first day of autumn.
This year, the vernal equinox occurred at 1049 PM on Thursday, March 19. The next full moon occurs at 2:45 AM GMT on April 8, resulting that Easter 2020 is observed on April 12.
Next year, Easter will be observed on April 4, 2021.
Supposedly, because there is less “wobble” of the earth created by the rotation around its axis during the equinoxes, it is easier to balance an egg on its end during these times. I’ve tried it in the past and can’t tell the difference.
You’ve also probably read about the mysterious “Golden Number” that is used to determine the date of new moons in a calendar cycle.
A mathematician stumbled upon it around 1,000 AD, although some say that the formula is as old as the ancient Babylonians. The golden number of any Julian or Gregorian calendar year can be calculated by dividing the year by 19, taking the remainder, and adding 1.
The number 19 is used to find the Golden Number because the dates of full moons repeat almost exactly every 19 years. Actually, it’s much easier just to go look in the Farmer’s Almanac.
This Golden Number is not to be confused with the number 42, which in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy , a novel by Douglas Adams (1979), is “the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything,” as calculated by an enormous supercomputer named “Deep Thought,” which was obviously unavailable at the Council of Nicaea.
Unfortunately, this number, derived over 7.5 million years, provides the answer to a question that no one can remember which, in many ways, sums up the absurdity of our current situation with the coronavirus. 42.
While “The Old Man and the Sea” (1952) was Ernest Hemingway’s last major work of fiction published during his lifetime, a memoir entitled, “A Moveable Feast” was published in 1964 by his fourth wife, years after his death.
Supposedly, it consisted mostly of a collection of “found” diaries that he had left in storage at the Ritz Hotel in Paris during his residence there back in the 1920s.
The context of the title was something like, “If you are fortunate enough to have lived in Paris, wherever you go after that, you take the city with you, because it is a ‘moveable feast.’” Sadly, the critics hated the memoir, debunking it as a work of “semi-fiction,” or even “alternate history,” implicitly saying “he just made it up.”
One even quoted Samuel Johnson by saying, “It’s both good and original. Unfortunately, what is original is not good; and what is good is not original.”
Although it has been closely examined, the memoir gives no clue as to the cause of his ultimate suicide, something totally out of character for this great writer who often wrote about the strength of the human spirit and of finding redemption in nature. Somehow, he had lost hope.
Whatever your religious persuasion, the Easter season offers a beacon of hope in an increasingly dark and desolate world.
Russian revolutionary Vladimir Ilyich Lenin spoke of this fellow early communists as “dead men on furlough.”
One also finds the same idea in the personal letters of Japanese soldiers during World War II who spoke of themselves as “ones already dead” when writing home before the upcoming Pacific island campaigns.
Those dedicated followers of an atheistic philosophy and emperor worship were willing to die for the cause, and each day was simply a temporary reprieve from death.
You can’t help but admire their dedication to their beliefs, whether you agree with them or not.
I’ve also read about World War II Russian paratroopers who jumped without chutes into the snow on the Eastern Front from low flying planes; but Tim Bowden, in his book, “One Crowded Hour, Neil Davis, Combat Cameraman, 1934-1985” (1987) describes something just as unique that took place in Borneo in 1964.
Nepalese fighters known as Gurkhas were asked if they would be willing to jump from airplanes into combat against the Indonesians.
Because of language barriers, the Gurkhas didn’t clearly understand what was involved, asking only that their plane fly slowly over a swampy area and no higher than 100 feet.
When told that parachutes would not have time to open at that height, the Gurkhas replied, “Oh, you didn’t tell us that we could wear parachutes!”
I cite the above illustrations because they convey to me the strength and resilience of individuals in crisis.
They lived, persevered, and often died, but throughout they were sustained by belief in a cause, in a power higher than themselves.
After all, when you roll back the stone, isn’t that what Easter is all about?
Light a candle for me.
Hattiesburg’s Benny Hornsby is a retired Navy captain. Send him a note at: bennyhornsby.com