Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Dec. 4, 2009

Two kinds of time

Where did the year go?

Once Thanksgiving has come and gone, I always seem to ask myself that question. The days, weeks and months of the past year have flown by, and I can't account for how many of them were spent.

Oh, I can look at my to-do list and see that I have crossed off certain items - paid bills, attended committee meetings, did laundry, finished grading papers, did some shopping. These are all necessary tasks and I take some satisfaction in having completed them and many others throughout my over-scheduled days and weeks.

But what I really enjoy are those moments when I'm not tuned in to my agenda, alarm clock, watch, cell phone, calendar or e-mail messages.

And when do those moments occur?

When I am lost in Tchaikovsky's Marche Slav, played by the young musicians of the Gold Orchestra.

When I laugh at the antics of the young actors in the high school's production of "Seussical."

When I stop to take photos of yellow ginkgo leaves on the K-State campus.

When I plant surprise lily bulbs in the still-warm November soil.

When I stretch slowly on a Saturday morning instead of jumping out of bed to the jarring sound of an alarm clock.

When I savor the tastes and smells and feel a deep sense of gratitude on a Thanksgiving Day shared with family and friends.

When I take time to breathe.

The ancient Greeks had two words for time - chronos and kairos. The first is the one we usually think about, measured by the clock, the rise and fall of the sun, the seasons coming and going. But the second, named for Kairos, the god of the "fleeting moment," is anything but regular. It is a time of undetermined length in which something special happens.

Kairos is "that time which breaks through chronos with a shock of joy, that time we do not recognize while we are experiencing it, but only afterwards, because kairos has nothing to do with chronological time," author Madeleine L'Engle wrote in "Walking on Water."

"In kairos we are completely unselfconscious, and yet paradoxically far more real than we can ever be when we're constantly checking our watches . . . ," she wrote. "The saint in contemplation, lost to self in the mind of God is in kairos. The artist at work is in kairos. The child at play, totally thrown outside herself in the game, be it building a sand castle or making a daisy chain, is in kairos."

Looking back, my kairos experiences at first seemed to just happen. But then I realized they were clustered about times when I momentarily stopped thinking in terms of what I needed to do next and instead just experienced what was happening right then.

We adults can never again return to our childhood world where our to-do lists involved little more than getting dressed in the morning and washing our hands before a meal. But we can take time outs. In this upcoming season, most of us will, at some point, feel overwhelmed by buying gifts, wrapping them, decorating, baking, party-going, tree-trimming, traveling and just doing. Perhaps we also need to step back - step back to make room for kairos moments among our chronos ones.

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