Life

APRIL ISN’T THE CRUELLEST MONTH

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 may be right-major life events and strong emotions do seem linked to the calendar

BARBARA RIGHTON August 15 2005
Life

APRIL ISN’T THE CRUELLEST MONTH

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 may be right-major life events and strong emotions do seem linked to the calendar

BARBARA RIGHTON August 15 2005

APRIL ISN’T THE CRUELLEST MONTH

Life

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 may be right-major life events and strong emotions do seem linked to the calendar

BARBARA RIGHTON

NOT TOO MANY YEARS AGO, a friend was eulogized at his funeral by a minister who quoted Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven. A time to be born, a time to die... His three sons—all hippie throwbacks—were impressed. After the service, one of them said: “Cool that the reverend used the Byrds. My dad woulda liked that.” No one bothered to point out that the ’60s folk-rock band used Ecclesiastes—somewhat rearranged by Pete Seeger—in its hit Turn! Turn! Turn! But the meaning of the words, whatever their source, rang through, as it always does: there is a

time for everything—bad stuff will be balanced by happy stuff, tears by laughter— and somehow that knowledge makes the vagaries of fortune easier to accept. “Many things in life,” observes University of Alberta sociology professor Herb Northcott, “are essentially random and unexplainable.”

But there’s also evidence that many things aren’t. When you do a little seasonal stocktaking—using both the Good Book and the Good Hit Song as a template—interesting trends emerge. The ups and downs of the nation are, more than we think, determined by the calendar. As the months roll by, it sets our moods, our behaviours and even the time when we are most likely to be born and to die. To quote Joni Mitchell, We’re captive on the carousel of time.

A time to be born... Birth is probably the happiest, most hopeful human event—a fresh start that brings indefinable joy to parents, grandparents, aunts and cousins. Canadian couples in the baby-making business love to cozy up as the late fall turns to early winter. All that heat and humidity are gone, the last leaves of summer are skittering across the yard, the first fire of the season is burn-

ing in the hearth. It must be conducive to getting it on for many people, because more Canadian babies are bom in July, nine months later, than in any other month—some 29,000 of them out of a total of nearly 330,000 in 2002. Statistics Canada figures also indicate that the second most popular birth month is September (December snogging) at nearly 29,000. February has the lowest number24,700—proving what? Maybe in May couples are typically too busy planting seeds in the garden to consider a little thing like procreation.

A time to die... Winter is the season of mourning. In 2002, again courtesy of StatsCan, nearly 224,000 of us died, with the months of January, March and December (roughly 20,000 per month) leading the morbidity sweepstakes. September was the lowest month for deaths in Canada—just 17,010. Why? Well, falls aren’t as likely, and don’t laugh. In 2001-2002, according to the National Trauma Registry at the Canadian Institute for Health Information in Ottawa, a whopping 114,300 Canadians were hospitalized because of falls, the leading cause of injury hospitalizations in the country. (The leading cause of death in 1997: cancer,

LATE FALL must be

conducive to getting it on, because July is the top month for the number of Canadian births

with heart attacks and strokes running second and third.) Traffic accidents—accounting for some 28,000 injury hospitalizations— tend to happen most in December. But, according to the Traffic Injury Research Foundation, most alcohol-related smash-ups occur, not around the winter holiday season, but during the summer months of June,

July and August when V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N sublimates prudence and replaces it with beer.

Suicide peaks in the spring, says Dr. Robert Levitan, a psychiatrist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto. That’s because after a long, dark winter of the soul, those who suffer from severe depression begin to feel better in the spring-

time, finding that extra little bit of energy they need to do themselves in. The arrival of spring does other bad things to those who are despondent. “In the winter,” says Levitan, “we are all supposed to be miserable. In the spring, depressed people see everyone else outside doing happy stuff.” Although it can be dangerously severe in

about three per cent of the population, seasonal affective disorder hits nearly half of Canadians with what Levitan calls “the winter blahs” from the time our clocks fall back in October till they spring forward in April. This epidemic of grumpiness will only worsen if we align ourselves with the proposed time change in the U.S., he warns. “It is the morning light we need most.”

Murder, meanwhile, has its own special time. We are most likely to be killed during the dog days of August when temperatures and tempers rise. From 1991 to 2003, according to the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, more than 7,300 Canadians were murdered. August led with more than 700 murders, while February had the lowest number with nearly 550.

A time to build up ... Not surprisingly, says Gregory Klump, chief economist for the 76,000-member Canadian Real Estate Association in Ottawa, home buying is seasonally driven in Canada. Of a total of 460,000 residential units sold in 2004, more than 49,000 were snapped up in March and April, and over 48,000 in May. Dismal January came in at around 24,000, nearly tied with December. Like our spirits, “new listings always perk up in the spring,” Klump says. “And they fall off as we head into the winter months. It’s not a lot of fun tramping around looking at properties in the snow.” Plus, as Levitan says, “Impulsivity tends to increase in the spring.”

They don’t call it fever for nothing. And that’s why buying a shiny new car also peaks in springtime. “Everyone wants a new vehicle for the summer,” says Dennis DesRosiers of Richmond Hill, Ont., one of Canada’s leading automotive analysts. Of the 1.5 million new cars sold during each of the past three or four years, DesRosiers says May always sees a jump of 20,000-30,000 more units than any other month (April is the next biggest). “Winters are harsh on vehicles,” DesRosiers explains. “People want to wait until the weather has broken.” But what about new cars as Christmas presents? Say that Porsche Carrera GT with a pretty red bow? “Five-thousand to 10,000, tops,” DesRosiers says brutally. “In fact, most new cars are purchased when people have a change in their status of life—like divorce. The No. 1 buyer of sports cars and convertibles: middle-aged women.”

A time to break down ... Ah, here it is, divorce. Good luck figuring this one out. As

Life I >

the StatsCan divorce specialist says, when people file for divorce is not usually any indicator of when the marriage collapsed. And when the divorce is granted has more to do with the courts. Still, she thinks (totally off the record) that she and her husband would have split up in last week’s umpteenth Ontario heat wave had they not gone out and bought an air conditioner. But it’s always the season for divorce, both according to the calendar and through the stages of one’s life. What we do know: from 1999 to 2003, the number of divorces clocked in at roughly 70,000 each year, edging down slightly by one per cent in ’03. But repeat divorces are increasing. In 1973, only 5.4 per cent of divorces involved previously divorced husbands. In 2003, this had tripled to 16.2 per cent. For wives the number rose from 5.4 to 15.7 per cent. So much for second time lucky. Most couples split after three years and if they could get past that, by the 30th anniversary, 37 per cent of marriages have gone boom.

A time to dance... Crank up the polka tunes and forget about the likelihood of bad endings—August is wedding reception time. June may be the most ballyhooed month for nuptials, but it followed both August (29,200) and July (20,500) in the year 2002, when nearly 147,000 marriages took place, according to StatsCan. In June ’02, only 19,600 weddings occurred in Canada. (These stats are only for opposite sexes: same-sex marriage didn’t hit the radar screen until 2003.) The least likely month? January (about 3,700), in contradiction of the traditional ditty, Married when the year is new, he will always be loving, kind and true. Marriages, like car sales, are also few and far between in November, December, February and March.

If August seems improbable—think of what the humidity will do to the bride’s hair—the University of Alberta’s Northcott admits he got married—in the sweltering heat of a Denver, Colo., August day no less—simply because it fit his schedule. Ah, now August is starting to make sense. Summer vacation time... all the relatives can come. “I sweated through the whole thing,” he remembers. And now his two daughters are each planning August weddings, again a matter of simple scheduling and bad hair be damned.

A time of war... Since the South African War began in October 1899 (Canada sent troops to help Britain face down the Boers), summer has been the most popular season for this country to declare war on other

nations. Canada, as part of the British Empire, automatically went to war against Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire in August of 1914. And it was in September 1939 that Prime Minister W. L. Mackenzie King proclaimed Canada’s involvement in World War II after hemming and hawing for nine days after Britain and France declared war on Germany. In June 1950, we sent troops to Korea. “Well,” says Northcott, “who wants to go to battle in wintertime?”

A time of hate... Sexual assaults most often occur in June, according to the Centre for Justice Statistics, using data from 69 police departments that account for roughly half of the national volume. Statisticians typically do not comment on their own findings, but it’s obvious—especially when the stats not only include rape but also crimes directed at children, such as exploitation, incest and invitation to sexual touching—that summer is a prime time for predators. Out of a total of 8,572 sexual assaults recorded in 2004,3,240 occurred between June and September. Also high was March, presumably because children are on a school break and more accessible.

A time of peace, I swear it’s not too late... Okay, tilting at windmills, the IRA announced its ceasefire to end all ceasefires last month, and the U.S. opened its borders to Canadian cattle, making July a possible contender for everything-is-beautiful month. Then again, there were the bombings in London...

WE ARE most

likely to be killed in the dog days of August, when temperatures and tempers rise

So, perhaps we are ruled by the sun, the seasons and the weather more than we ever knew. Rubbish, says best-selling author and University of Toronto economics professor David Foot. “It’s not so much the time of year; it’s the time of life. At 20, people graduate from university. At 30, they get married, have a kid and assume a mortgage, which gets them focused. At 50, everyone goes through menopause, has a mid-life crisis, and stops being a team player. At 70, they have strokes or heart attacks and stop doing yard work.”

We prefer the Byrds’ scenario. I?il