Sunday, August 5, 2012

Time and time again

Suddenly it feels like summer is over. There's still a month left before school starts, of course, but the final stretch is previewing in my head in fast motion. There are school supplies and shoes to buy, dental appointments, and emotions of anxious kids to calm. Oh -- and the minor matter (!) of where Little Guy will get educated.

I've always thought it odd that time can feel condensed or rushed or slow and yet tick along systematically. When I was young, I thought this made clock-time peevishly deceptive. Somewhere in my mid-20s I got annoyed enough at clock-time that I decided not to structure my life around it. (It's possible this choice was influenced by a story I read when I was about 12, in which a boy in WWII trained himself to wake up at whatever time he needed to be up. I thought that was very cool.)

So back in the days when people wore watches, I didn't. I didn't want to strap my life to a timepiece. I did keep a clock on my desk so I wasn't late for meetings, but I rarely looked at it. Instead I became very, very good at sensing how much time had elapsed. I found that not-thinking about the tick-tock gave me greater concentration and creativity.

Somewhere I learned that the Greeks had two distinct words for time: chronos and kairos. Chronos is the chronological, measurable stuff. Kairos is the outside-of-time time we enter when we call up a memory that is as rich and real as the event itself. If you fall into a reverie and re-experience what it was like to hold your baby for the first time, or are practically there in the warm kitchen eating cookies with your grandmother, you're probably closer to kairos than chronos. You're remembering in the sense of re-membering, re-uniting. And it's real. It's more than just a story stored in your data banks: it's as if you've re-entered a time outside of time.

In theology, kairos means the time in which God acts. It's the intersection of the temporal and eternal. I like that. I like it a lot.

But I still have to make another trip to Staples for school supplies.

1 comment:

  1. I love the distinctions between chronos and kairos -- I wish English had richer, nuanced words like Greek and German so often do. Thanks for posting this.