My how time flies!

It seems that only yesterday we were observing the International Year of the Child. Mere weeks before that (it seems) we were celebrating the International Women's Year. And here we are already into the first weeks of the International Year of the Disabled Persons.

Where do the years go? Or, to ask the question that is really on my mind: Why do the "years" come? What is the point? Who dreams them up? What does anybody realistically expect of them?

We used to be accused of "throwing money" at our problems. The newest trend is to throw a "year" at them?

I suppose I needn't point out that I am not opposed to women, children or disabled persons. Some of my best friends and favorite relatives fall into one or more of these categories.

Nor would I disparage the work any number of individuals and groups are doing on behalf of these various subsets of humankind.

But there is a long and empty way between the commendable efforts of, say, the Children's Defense Fund and the U.N.-sponsored International Year of the Child; between the pragmatic work on behalf of the disabled (much of it by the disabled themselves) and the current International Year of Disabled Persons.

The one focuses on specific problems: the inequities of the juvenile court system, for instance, or the inaccessibility of public buildings to the wheelchairbound. The other consists (or so it seems to me) of pious declarations.

And almost inevitably, the latter also introduces political pronouncements that, however commendable, have very little impact on the problem ostensibly at issue.

Arms control, for instance, is a notion I can support with some fervor.

But listen to Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.) in a statement on the 1979 International Year of the Child:

"Developing nations import weapons from the major arms merchants of the world at a rate of more than $6 billion a year. How could these countries better spend their money?" Why, on children, of course.

Now compare that with the New Years Day Statement of Pope John Paul II in support of the International Year of Disabled Persons:

"If only a minimum part of the budget for the arms race would be devoted to this cause, important successes could be achieved to alleviate the conditions of many suffering persons."

I admire Schroeder and His Holiness for opposing the world's outrageous investment in human slaughter. But I wonder if either of them really believes that their statements -- or the "years" they support -- will lead a single nation to transform its garrisons into children's centers or its armored personnel carriers into wheelchair-accessible buses.

How can they believe it in the face of how little came of the 1977 International Women's Year or the 1979 International Year of the Child?

The purpose were laudable enough: equality and full participation for women; health, happiness, learning and non-abuse for children. (I don't recall what the International Geophysical Year was supposed to accomplish, and i'm not going to look it up.)

But can you really recall any good that was produced by any of those year-long observances?

Your clearest memories are likely to be not of accomplishment but of controversy: fights over lesbian rights and abortion during IWY; arguments over whether the IYC was an attempt to undermine the sanctity of the family. o

And speaking of the family, would you mind listing the five major reforms that grew out of the White House Conference on Families? Granted that series of confabs was domestic, not "international," and it was not given its own "year". But it turned out to be very much the same sort of affair, with laudable intentions quickly giving way to political posturing and internecine strife.

Maybe you think that sort of thing can't happen with such an innocuous thing as the Year of Disabled Persons. But just wait until the battle lines are drawn over what to do about viable-but-deformed fetuses, or the cost-effectiveness of Transbuses and subway elevators.

And yet the one certainty is that a couple of Januarys hence we'll be launching yet another "year."

William Wordsworth said it over 150 years ago: Why with such earnest pains dost thou provoke The years . . . . ?

It's still a good question.