When I turned 16, my mother came home from a “doctor’s visit” with a surprise — not a new brother or sister, but a bright yellow Ford Pinto. (Yes, Ford Pintos explode upon impact, but no one knew this at the time.)
I loved that little yellow car! I zipped around town, back and forth to school, to the grocery store, K-Mart, anywhere and everywhere my mother sent me. I followed the rules as best I could, and naturally learned a few lessons along the way.
One night my mother received a call from a neighbor who claimed I drove so fast that when I crested the hill near our house she could see the back wheels fly off the ground (let us not forget this is a Ford Pinto).
I quickly learned that everyone in the county knew who drove the little yellow car. That lesson became obvious, while the real lesson remained elusive.
“Not my fault,” I cried out to my mother, my teachers, my friends. “Lost track of time.”
I blame my chronic tardiness on one thing: I grew up with a trickster in the house. Not a ghost, or a h’aunt, but a true trickster, one that hung on the wall in broad daylight. In some ways it became our elephant in the living room, that family problem no one wants to talk about. But, I’ll be brave and call what it is — a backward clock!
That damn thing caused a lot trouble — the kind of trouble no one recognizes or feels the need to think about, much less talk about. We all remember it and laugh about it now, but no one ever considered or understood the long-term affects this backward clock possibly had on us children, just wee folk learning to read and write, and understand the concept of time.
To date, here’s what I know:
- Some of us lose time easier than others.
- Some of us know how to tend it better than others.
- Most of us think in terms of chronological time, khronos, and
- the only khronos thing about the rest of us is that we don’t think that way and we are chronically late.
- The concept of time as a 4th dimension is debatable, (Google it if you’re curious); and lastly,
- I know where I spend a great deal of my time — in Kairos, that place where time feels suspended, eternal, and blessed.
That backward clock came disguised as a gift, a house-warming present from an ornery aunt or uncle. This is the timepiece I learned to read when I was a preschooler. Mesmerized by the hands moving in a clockwise motion, but counting down instead of up — 12, 11, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6 — six, the only other number besides twelve that is located where it’s supposed to be. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. One sits where eleven is and so forth and so on, round and round we go. Backwards.
Surely you see the root of my confusion. Time.
But let’s go back to the Greek terms Kairos and Khronos (chronos), think of the word chronological — the concept of measuring time by seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, years, millennials.
Kairos is different though, best defined by its original Greek interpretation meaning opportunity. A perfect moment. That time when “the world takes a breath, and in the pause before it exhales, fates can be changed” (Valentine).
We’ve all felt it, right? That pause. That stillness and grace. It feels as if chronological time stops and you see a new world of opportunity open up in front of you — the birth of your grandchild, the butterfly landing on your shoulder, the whisper of wind in the trees, the hope on a child’s face, in the eyes of the elderly, in your own smile as you envision a moment that makes you happy.
Pause, take a breath, and feel it now.
By the age of six I understood kairos and retreated into this state as often as I could. Looking back I now thank the trickster, the backward clock. The ripple effect of its presence quite possibly left me with an uncanny ability to move backward, not literally, but seemingly as if in retrograde (from the Latin word retrogradus – meaning “backward-step”). Not that I am backward thinking, but that I think in a backward motion.
This gives me an overly abundant imagination, the freedom to meditate and day-dream for hours, and the ability to solve problems, even math problems, through a backdoor system, one that I can’t explain. Like reading from right to left, seeing things upside down and wrong side out, being chronically lost in time…..that sort of thing.
It’s important to note you can’t live in a state of timelessness all your life. Kairos, that suspended moment when a decision is made or action taken, that day-dreamy state that feels holy and sacred, doesn’t last long. If its claim is perfection, it can’t possibly be sustained.
I learned this on a rainy evening when I defied my mother’s instructions and skipped out on my Sunday night youth group. Instead of parking the Ford Pinto in front of the church, I continued driving down the wet street.
Deeply entrenched in a kairos moment, I sang overtop the radio, “Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody really care?? About Time……??…..and so I can’t imagine why……oh oh oh oh……” (Chicago, Greatest Hits).
At 16 I lived a charmed life. I saw it unfold in front of me that night in the pouring rain.
But what I didn’t see was the edge of the nearest driveway. It seemed to reach out and grab me, pulling the car into the ditch. My Ford Pinto scraped across the galvanized metal and wedged itself between the rise of the ditch in front of me and the culvert below.
My head must have hit the steering wheel and set the horn off because within seconds M—- flashed on her porch light. My mother’s hairdresser stood at her backdoor, shielding her face from the glaring bulb just inches above the towel wrapped around her head. She motioned me in, unwrapped her turban, and shook out her bleached blonde hair. She made me call my mother.
Within twenty minutes one of my brothers arrived along with a few of his friends. They laughed and waved me aside. They each clutched a corner bumper, two in front, two in back and gave the Ford Pinto a hefty bounce. The undercarriage released and for a fleeting moment it seemed as if the little yellow car lifted from its perch to rise and fly, a songbird shaking water off its wings.
But it was just my brother, his friends, and their brute strength up against the featherlight vehicle they lifted and set back on the road. That night they were my heroes filling my life with fresh opportunity — a perfect moment in time.
“Apparent Retrograde Motion.” January 12, 2016. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apparent_retrograde_motion. January 28, 2016
Photo compliments of Watching Clocks in the UK — currently out of stock — http://www.watchingclocks.co.uk/cobb–co-small-reverse-railway-clock—golden-oak-799-p.asp
Valentine, McKinley. “Chronos and Kairos.” 2014. www.mckinleyvalentine.com/kairos. January 28, 2016.