Time to think about time
On how we use words...
When I was 22 and fresh out of college, I lived on the edge of a park in Qingdao, China. It was a park for the community to gather and enjoy open space. However, if you are picturing green lawns, children's play areas, and tennis courts, it wasn't that kind of park. The park was paved. It had a massive set of broad steps. The park's most "outdoorsy" part was a path through some scraggly trees. The trees were small and not very vital, and the ground from which they grew was hard-packed dirt.
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The park came alive as soon as the sun rose. In my mind, the sun rose at 5 a.m. (a quick google check confirms my memory!) In the corner pavilion was ballroom dancing. Another group practiced the impossibly slow, refined movements of Tai Chi. Still, other people slowly (so slowly) walk the steps. Groups of men squatted, as Chinese men are known to do, and started their gambling games, smoking and gossiping early. Along the "tree-lined path," Chinese grandmothers would do their morning stretches. Each woman had her favorite tree. The stretching included lifting a foot above her head and placing it in the Y of the tree. There was the faint smell of hot grease, boiling noodles, and thin Chinese egg crepes, with fragrant garlic and onion, from the breakfast vendor carts at the entrances to the park. It was a total vibe.
This week I started thinking about the Chinese park after the word choice in one of my (current) favorite songs jolted me into a new awareness. The second line in "Cover me in Sunshine" (by Pink!) is: "I've got so much time to kill."
Maybe because I read a book about a Russian sniper (more to come on that), the word kill, concerning time, stunned me.
Time to kill! It's a phrase that is common. I've heard it a million times, yet that morning I heard it for the first time!
I made a list of all the ways we talk about time. We spend time, we waste time, we spare time, we make time, we have time (or don't), and of course, we kill time. As I made my list, I started thinking about the animating energy of these words.1 What does the way we talk about time tell us about how we view time? What is time? Why do we use such aggressive, assertive, and even violent words to describe the flow, pace, and utter gift and grace of our short embodied experience? These, of course, are huge questions that philosophers from the ancient to now debate. Maybe, for our purposes, just noteing how we talk about time will invite us to consider a different relationship to time?
The Greek concepts of chronos and kairos seem to provide a helpful framework. Both of these words refer to time but encompass different approaches and experiences of time.
Chronos is the clock's tick; it measures the passing of our days through minutes and hours. It refers to the managing and subduing of time in service of our lives. We kill, spare, and spend chronos time.
Kairos is a little more interesting! Kairos is timeless. It's the right thing or opportunity happening at the right time. It's presence in the moment. It refers to the moment when an archer releases the arrow from the bow and time slows down. At that moment, it's just the archer, the bow, the target, and the arrow; total absorption in the present.
… There's something freeing about dropping our full hands before kairos. We should consider learning to stand in our present circumstances and finding the courage to ask, "What is time for?" And then to take the time to listen and to act.
Enuma Okoro, "A Brief History of Time", Financial Times Weekend, 6-7 February, 2021
As I thought about time in the context of our language, I kept returning to the park in Qingdao, China. The men and women who got up early every day to go to the park weren't killing time; they weren't wasting time and weren't even spending time. What happened each morning in the park was kairos time. Living, savoring, experiencing, breathing, and flowing were the animating energy. Crossing the threshold of the park was entering kairos time. That's probably why over 20 years later, the park is just as vibrant, in my mind, as it was then.
The words we use matter. Do I still say, "spend time, kill time, waste time?" Yes! It's a hard habit to break! I'm trying to notice the ways that I quantify and describe time.
The words we use to describe end up describing us. When I experience time as infinite, available, and a grace-filled gift, that is the energy from which I live, move, and have my being. When time becomes limited and scarce, something I need to hoard, protect, and overpower. That energy and viewpoint become my energy and lens through which I live, breathe, and have my being.2
I’m so thankful for the men in mao suits and the Chinese grandmothers with their legs in trees (how do they do it?) who showed me what living kairos looks like; it’s active, it’s vibrant, it’s flowing, it’s now.
A Kairos Blessing…
May you find thresholds from chronos into kairos as you flow through your week. As life unfolds, may you remember the wisdom of kairos, which is all things happen at the right time, in the right way. May you savor, share, unfold, unhurry, enjoy, and animate your chronos time.
Where in the span of your life have you experienced kairos?
What did it feel like?
What made it kairos?
How do you feel when you remember that period of kairos time?
When have you experienced kairos this past week?
What were you doing?
How did you know it was kairos time?
Notice your language about time.
What does it tell you about your beliefs about time?
How can you refer to time?
The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn
I love Kate Quinn, and her newest book on a female Russian sniper did not disappoint. The Diamond Eye is a fictional account of a highly decorated female sniper who served in the Russian army at the beginning of WWII. After an injury, she was ordered to join a propaganda/goodwill tour to the US. In an unlikely turn of events, she becomes friends with Eleanor Roosevelt! In the author's note at the end, she explains what elements of the story are fiction to serve her book and what parts are true (all of this IS true.) The book contains pictures of the heroine, her sniper partner, and Eleanore Roosevelt! I highly recommend this book; it's fun, thought-provoking, and in a strange way, very relevant given the ongoing war in Ukraine (she was from Ukraine, and locations there play a part in this book.)
"Snipers must make themselves calm in order to succeed, and that is why women are good at sharpshooting. Because there is not a woman alive who has not learned how to eat rage in order to appear calm."
― Kate Quinn, The Diamond Eye
The following selections are from the small book, The Archer by Paulo Coelho. It’s a short book about archery. I loved it, and as I pondered kairos, I found myself thinking back to this little book about the soul of archery. My son and I read this book a few years ago and considered the overlap between archery and golf. We found much to discuss.
As you read these selections, read slowly and notice if a word or phrase stands out to you. Is there an invitation, a lesson, an ah-ha for you?
“Join with those who have never said: 'Right, that's it, I'm going no further,' because as sure as spring follows winter, nothing ever ends; after achieving your objective, you must start again, always using everything you have learned on the way.
Join with those who sing, tell stories, take pleasure in life, and have joy in their eyes, because joy is contagious and can prevent others from becoming paralyzed by depression, loneliness, and difficulties.”
― Paulo Coelho, The Archer
“Use your bad moments to discover what makes you tremble. Use your good moments to find your road to inner peace. But do not stop either out of fear or joy: the way of the bow has no end.”
― Paulo Coelho, The Archer
“But never hold back from firing the arrow if all that paralyzes you is fear of making a mistake. If you ave made the right movements, open your hand and release the string. Even if the arrow fails to hit the target, you will learn how to improve your aim next time.
If you never take a risk, you will never know what changes you need to make.
Each arrow leaves a memory in your heart, and it is the sum of those memories that will make you shoot better and better.”
― Paulo Coelho, The Archer
“People always judge others by taking as a model their own limitations, and other people’s opinions are often full of prejudice and fear. Join with all those who experiment, take risks, fall, get hurt and then take more risks. Stay away from those who affirm truths, who criticise those who do not think like them, people who have never once taken a step unless they were sure they would be respected for doing so, and who prefer certainties to doubts.”
― Paulo Coelho, The Archer
words from Acts 17:28