A man stands under a clock at the Munich Hauptbanhof. The train station is just one place reliant on accurate keeping of chronological time, or what the Greeks called Chronos. (Photo by Thomas Froese)
(The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday March 10, 2018)
I don’t know about this business tonight of moving to Daylight Saving Time. It doesn’t feel entirely right. Not complete. Not really.
I’m with the Walrus from Alice in Wonderland. “If you knew time as well as I do, you wouldn’t be talking about wasting it,” is what the Walrus said. And if you can’t waste time, it seems to me that you can’t save time either. Despite the well-worn dictum that “time is money,” it’s not. It’s much more.
I’m learning these things. And there are important things to learn in our relationship with time, are there not? Such a strange relationship, it is. I mean, why do we live in this Once Upon a Time? Why don’t we live Once Below a Time?
It was my grandmother who gave me my first watch. She sent it from Berlin. I was a boy and it meant the world to me. Ever since I’ve strapped one timepiece or another to myself. I’ve been strapped to time. So have you. We’re all strapped together, apparently.
This is Chronos time. The Greeks named it such. Chronos time is wristwatch time. Time to wake up. Time for lunch. Time to catch the train. Time for bed.
Chronos time is when chronology, that is creation, started: that remarkable explosion of mass and energy that, scientists now understand, left an echo in space so massive that we’re still floating in it. We’d be lost without Chronos time. Unhinged.
But when you travel, Chronos has issues. The other morning I received a text from Uganda, from David, my son’s friend from when we lived there. “Dr. Jean Chamberlain is in Uganda,” he informed me, as if I’m unaware of the children’s mother’s whereabouts.
“It’s 5.40 am,” I replied.
“Sorry. I guess I should let you sleep,” David replied back.
Does that boy not know about time zones? The children laughed when I told them.
Time zones were devised just recently, in the 19th century, largely to align those new train schedules. Our great grandparents still had all their clocks set haphazardly to differing local times.
So we know Chronos is about the sun and the movement of the earth and stars. We grow old in Chronos. But we don’t know exactly how. No, we don’t know as much about Chronos as we think we know.
Kairos time, also named by the Greeks, is an entirely different affair. And we know even less about it. Kairos is less Walrus, more Mad Hatter, a little harder to put your finger on. In short, it’s that right moment, that opportune time.
It’s time to fall in love. Or time to fall into your work. All night. This is Kairos. A child loses himself in play. Where did the time fly? It’s time to dream.
Around the time my grandmother sent me that watch, I dreamt I could go down the stairs without touching them. Nobody told me I couldn’t. Later, I once dreamt I floated from bed, through the ceiling, then the roof, then a million miles into space, held to earth by a thin strand of silky thread like an umbilical cord. Nobody told me I couldn’t do that either.
So if Chronos is earth’s time, Kairos is God’s time. It has no limits. No boundaries. It’s both mysterious and nourishing, so very nourishing. Yes, in Kairos you give up your control. Then you can walk on water. Or be reborn. Nothing’s in your hands. If it was, you’d just gummy it all up.
So here we are after a long winter. We want more light. I get that. After my first full winter (more or less) in Canada in 15 years, I get that very much. So come Daylight Saving Time. We’re ready. We’ll open the curtains. We’ll change our clocks.
I’m just saying, though, more light can sometimes be hard on the eyes. And the night, the keeper of that more mysterious time, can be closer to who we really are, our inner being, the part of ourselves that we’ve somehow forgotten.
The one kind of time is like a friend. It’s for today. The other is like a lover. It’s for the long tomorrow. And it makes the wait until then rather interesting too.