I am in the middle of only my second semester as a faculty member at Georgetown University, and, happily, I am already penning my first column for The Hoya. As good fortune would have it, I get to write just a week or so before one of my favorite dates: Feb. 29. There are two basic reasons, the latter more meaningful to me than the former, that I have always liked leap day.
First, it is a fun little quirk of the calendar that most of the world uses. Indeed, it is a quirky day on top of a quirky month. Compared to the 11 other months of the year, February, with only 28 days, is already peculiar enough. And then, as if that had not already been confusing enough for most people when they were learning about the calendar as children, the month tacks on an extra day every four years.
Where others find annoyance in this, however, I find charm. Yes, I know that leap years exist to keep the calendar aligned with nature’s seasons, and I was told just recently that the reason February gets the extra day has its roots in some decisions of Julius Caesar. Neither of these things is especially charming, but sometimes a whole is more than the sum of its parts. Keeping me on my toes for February each year, and for Feb. 29 every four years, is a welcome task.
The second, and as I said above, the more significant reason I like Feb. 29, is because it was on that day 20 years ago that I interviewed for what would become my first job after college. I boarded a plane early that morning at South Bend Regional Airport in South Bend, Ind. — at the time, I was three months away from finishing my undergraduate studies at the University of Notre Dame — and flew here, to Washington, D.C.
More to the point, on Feb. 29, 2000, as I was flying to D.C., I was about three weeks away from hearing whether I had been accepted to a totally different program, one that was administered by Notre Dame and would have seen me teach high school for two years. A number of good friends had applied to the same program, and I was crossing my fingers and toes in the hopes that we would all matriculate, deepen our friendships and do some good work along the way. Most of them did just that, but things turned out differently for me.
During my interview that day, my future boss asked me, “If you are offered this job tomorrow, are you ready to accept it on the spot?” I had been tipped off that this question would come my way, and further, that it had only one correct answer, which is the answer I gave. “But of course, Father.” The job, as it turned out, was at the United States Catholic Conference, which is now called the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. And that future boss was a priest.
Late on the 29th, I flew back to Notre Dame, crawled into bed and awoke the next morning to a phone call from an administrator at the university. The job was mine, and I had 24 hours to decide if I wanted it.
I was surprised at the time cushion. I was thinking I would have no more than 24 seconds to say yes or no, so a whole day seemed luxurious. Truly, I have no idea how many of those hours I took to accept the offer, but I did so before the close of business that day.
I do not remember exactly what my thought process was before I communicated my decision, but I would reconstruct it in this way.
Living in a big city, working in a field I did not know all that well and striking out on my own, had an attractive sense of adventure. Call it “the road less traveled,” or something like that, but it was undeniable for me that this job, this opportunity, carried some excitement with it, an excitement that was thicker than the one I felt when I thought about the teaching program. The only question was whether I would trust my gut, whether I would take a leap and give it a shot.
Fr. Peter Folan, S.J., is an assistant professor of theology and religious studies in the College. As This Jesuit Sees It appears online every other Thursday.