I was a fourth-grade farm girl heading back to school in last-year’s shoes when this picture was taken. My brother was a brand-new first grader, judging from the sharp crease in those pants. I’m looking beyond us both, waiting for the bus, hovering protectively, but also displaying “the watch.”
If you’ve read Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World, you may recall that my father gave me the watch as a “toy” because it no longer worked. The moment I took it apart and discovered that the little hand was stuck trying to get past the big hand, I shrieked. Time itself stopped (Kairos) as I gently moved one hand away from the other, wound the stem, and heard the lovely, rhythmic sound of Chronos time ticking away.
Fast forward almost sixty years.
I’m pondering the ways mortality presents itself in relation to time. For older people. For younger people.
Below, meet the 36-year-old author of the book and listen to him reflect on how the meaning of time changed in his life after the diagnosis of stage four lung cancer:
“Clocks are now kind of irrelevant to me. Time, where it used to have kind of a linear progression feel to it, now feels more like a space.”
I underlined the words below in my super-annotated copy of When Breath Becomes Air.
“I don’t believe in the wisdom of children, nor in the wisdom of the old. There is a moment, a cusp, when the sum of gathered experience is worn down by the details of the living. We are never so wise as when we live in the moment.’
Long ago, as a child, I was excited by making a desire come true. I wanted a watch, a watch that worked! Finding a way to do that felt like a miracle. I was an alchemist, taking base metal and turning it gold. The “toy” gift from my father became real. I could wear it, borrowing strength and power from him, not caring that I was not wearing a “girl’s” watch.
But it was that moment of pure intent and concentration, of moving the small hand away for the big hand, that has stayed with me. Because I now know the days are short, I realize that the same alchemy is available to me every day.
Paul Kalanithi found a way to live in the present tense when he saw that he had no control over the future tense. He faced suffering with courage and gave himself to as many moments as possible, allowing his baby daughter who arrived trailing clouds of glory, to teach him.
We can do the same! The lesson of this book and of all great books is that time is not the enemy. Time is the teacher. Every breath has the potential to take us to Kairos, the place of pure love, the place where the last breath ends.
When and how have you encountered Kairos in your life? Or, if you prefer, when has time stood still in your life?