It Will Not Come Again

Only when the clock stops does time come to life. William Faulkner

The ancient Greeks believed there were two kinds of time – Chronos and Kairos.

Chronos is clock time. The seconds, minutes and hours that make up our day. The all-hands meeting running 15 minutes over or telling a colleague you need a minute time. The checking your watch in the Trader Joe’s checkout line or figuring out just how late you’ll be for dinner while stuck in rush hour traffic time.

Chronos time is calculable and quantitative. The minutes you’ve lost or squandered. The hour you’ll never get back. It’s the ticking time of waiting for a diagnosis or the delivery of bad news. It’s the painfully slow passage of a day when being awake means burning with grief, and there are still two more hours before you can escape to bed.

Chronos is the time we exist in, the time that doesn’t move fast enough or blazes by so quickly, we can hardly believe another season has arrived, our kids are grown, our parents are gone.

Kairos time is qualitative and in the eye of the clock keeper. It’s those moments when the concept of time falls away or stops altogether. Dancing with your first love, rocking a new baby, watching a dying parent sleep. The happy moments you want to stretch on, the harbinger minutes you grasp onto because you know what’s coming next. It’s losing track of time, time outside of time. The agonizing minutes of being stuck in a conversation you want to escape, the lost in time feeling when you’re focused or in flow.

Kairos is memorable time and all I want is more time. Hard to calculate, even harder to hang on to, Kairos time usually departs without warning as you’re thrown back into a chronos world.

Chronos and Kairos are in play throughout our lives, and both become infinitely more valuable when someone we love is dying. Suddenly, we can’t get enough Chronos time. Mundane hours, uneventful days. Time alive together becomes precious, no matter where we are and what we’re doing. When the end is in sight, there’s never enough of either time. The ordinary becomes sacred, and mere presence becomes magic.

I wasn’t prepared for the beauty of my son’s final days. The way time crystalized and every moment shimmered. How present I was, how remarkable everything felt. The way time took shape, turned palpable, became something I could grab on to. The way we marked and memorized the moments. The sound of his laughter. The curve of his neck, his head bent close to his younger sister’s. The lift of his smile. The warmth of his hugs. The joy of having him for one more day. The gift of even though we’re running out of time, you’re still here time. The way the minutes matter and endure, even now when I would give anything for just a few more.

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