There are times when life’s events race by at such speed that all that remains is a sensation of relief at having survived the madness. At other times, minutes stretch into days, and each hour morphs into an eternity of bright delight or dark anguish. During the past month, I experienced both of these extreme distortions of time.
It began with exposure to the COVID virus. Chances that I was infected were few, but because I share my home with people at greater risk than I, I moved into a small, ancillary building on our property. I proceeded to camp out there for the next 10 days. Alone with an air mattress, my coffee maker and laptop, a TV, and an ice chest, I luxuriated in my solitude. Relieved of my household responsibilities, dinner time slipped without the usual angst over what to cook for my batch of picky eaters. I spent my days in calm, quiet activities, reading, writing, walking, sleeping. Time passed at a lovely, leisurely pace.
Near the end of my 10-day quarantine, Hurricane Ida set her sights on Louisiana. Knowing that my two nieces would want to evacuate, I invited them to stay with us.
Their arrival, accompanied by the pounding of eight Doberman feet, changed the tempo of my days. Suddenly, there were six people for dinner! The already tricky process of keeping certain pets away from other pets became even more complicated. With time on her hands, one niece undertook an extensive reorganizing of my mother’s rooms. De-cluttering, deep cleaning, and shopping for storage solutions went on for days. I greatly appreciated the work and was delighted that I didn’t have to do it. Yet, I stooped under the weight of decision-making, the worry that change was happening too fast for my mom to process it all, and the abruptness of the move from solitude to overload.
Into the midst of this hurricane-inspired activity came the fear-laced news that a beloved cousin had been hospitalized with COVID while caring for six members of his family, all of whom were unvaccinated. The fear turned into grief when he came down with double pneumonia and died within hours of being intubated. The activity in my house didn’t stop, but I felt like I was walking against the current of a river whose waters rose precipitously higher with each passing day.
The cognitive dissonance of experiencing time as simultaneously fleeting and stalling caused me to think of two types of time: Chronos and Kairos. We live our lives in Chronos time. It is the measured passing of one season, one day, and one moment into the next. As noted on the website www.physics.org/news:
“The capacity to measure time is among the most important of human achievements and the issue of when time was ‘created’ by humankind is critical in understanding how society has developed.” https://phys.org/news/2013-07-world-oldest-calendar.html
It is this form of time that orders our days and most of our lives. We have 24 hours per day to accomplish an ever-expanding list of activities, tasks, and chores. Within that same 24-hour timeframe, we also have to eat, sleep, and maintain the body. To say that we live by the clock is not an overstatement. Like Lewis Carroll’s White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, we run around feeling like we’re “late, late, late for a very important date.”
Time takes on a different meaning when something out of the ordinary happens. This could be the devastation of a natural disaster, a national emergency, or a personal tragedy. With our personal lives disrupted, time changes its cadence. The relentless march to the next activity or the next moment falters. If we’re willing to be present to the disruption, we might just find ourselves in Kairos time.
Kairos time is what the ancient author wrote about in Chapter 3 of the Book of Ecclesiastes: “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” 3:1
“ ‘Kairos’ (καιρός)…, an ancient Greek word, means; the perfect moment or timing, the opportune moment, the moment of truth, the defining moment, that fleeting moment, that comes and goes in the blink of an eye, which must be seized and not let go.” https://greekerthanthegreeks.com/2017/08/lost-in-translation-kairos-fleeting.html
The death of my beloved cousin initiated a Kairos moment for me, which has lasted for days. Amid an increasingly violent, less tolerant nation fighting over seemingly everything, I went about my daily activities in a fog of grief. I didn’t have the usual defenses engaged for public interaction, and I felt exposed and vulnerable. It was just the setup Spirit needed to remind me that Goodness is everywhere because God is everywhere. Without the tyranny of the clock, I was open and receptive to the miracle of humanity at its best. I will relate only two of the many experiences of this miracle here.
The first experience came at the grocery store, where a cashier motioned me over to her station. She looked at my cart and said, “You only have a few items over the limit.” As she was ringing up my purchases, I thanked her for her kindness, noting that I had had three rough weeks that included my husband in the hospital and a death in the family. No sooner had those words been uttered when she stopped what she was doing, looked me straight in the eye, and said, “Oh, my goodness! That’s a lot. I’m so sorry you’re having such a rough time. I wish there was more I could do for you.” Time stood still. My heart opened wide with love and gratitude. I was astonished at her kindness, and I said so. She simply resumed her work, and smiled at me. I walked out of the store with a lighter heart and clearer mind than I’d had in days.
This morning, I called to reschedule a doctor’s appointment that had taken me months to obtain. When the receptionist checked the calendar, she said there were no openings until December. I explained to her that I figured it would be that long, but I had no choice as there had been a death in my family, and I was going out of town to attend the service. Immediately, she stopped what she was doing and expressed her sadness at my loss. Again, I was astonished, and I thanked her for her kindness and compassion. We finished getting me rescheduled and were saying the usual goodbyes when she stopped. Shifting from the standard pleasantries, she told me that she would hold me in “mercy and safe travels.” Almost unable to speak, I told her what a blessing she was at that moment.
I want this moment to last forever. I want to feel the heart connections with other people that I felt with those two women. I don’t want to go back to being so pushed by Chronos time that I miss the Kairos moments that must be everywhere if I am just open to them. It might not change the world, but it just might change one person – and that’ll mean the world to me.
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