Wednesday, January 27, 2010


My introduction to the word kairos came shortly after my sister was diagnosed with terminal cancer. We were on the phone in different islands, just days after the news that her liver had secondary cancer, even though no prior primary had been found. She talked about concepts, new to her, of chronos and kairos, describing them as horizontal and vertical time. We were blinded by (and blind to) the possibility that her life passage through chronological time could be cut short by death. But on the phone that day, as we talked about kairos time, we both 'got it' - the mystery and the substance. There is tIme that is yesterday and today and tomorrow, and there is time that is so imbued with 'now' that it's off the tracks, no longer earth bound, and ballooning with possibilities. In the subsequent 12 months we went on to experience, in parcels of shared days, Kairos's capacious and unbounded gift. Kairos has come unbidden at other times of my life, often in the company of crisis. It seemed in these moments that alchemy had taken place, transmuting pain to something redolent with peace, even joy. But the other beautiful and baffling characteristic was the altered sense of time. Was that a minute, or an hour or a day? Time no longer took me or, if in company, others, forward through time, but rather wrapped us like an ever-changing perfectly fitting shawl.

Recently I have been reading about the ancient Greeks who not only named kairos but gave it form. This given shape is intriguing: a winged male with a forelock hanging over his forehead and a bald skull at the back. The hank of hair, according to early writings, is an invitation - a lure to take action. To seize Kairos in our fist. The lack of hair at the back - a bald reminder that the opportunity can be lost. This odd and ungodlike figure, and the ungainly action he invites from us mortals, has given me pause. Rather than letting kairos descend (or ascend) like a divine grace, maybe I (we) can practice the art of getting out of step with chronos. Is it as simple as a reaching out, a grabbing, a resolute holding on? If this man has wings, I'll certainly lose my footing. Perhaps I'll give it a try.


  1. Oh yes I agree that Kairos can happen in times of crisis - I found giving birth to be such a 'crisis' where time is reformed and unquantifiable. I also think writers - in grabbing and opening up moments, their possibilities - seek to create kairos from chronos. Thank you for giving me the language to describe this 'thing' we do.

  2. Thanks for that link to writing, Mary. You're absolutely right I think. Perhaps music does this too. Sometimes the separation between the C and K is membrane-thin, at other times seemingly impenetrable. I want to get more nimble.

  3. I've had the odd handful of hair in my hand, knowing I've seized the time. I've seen old baldy disappearing off too at times before I've had a chance to wake up and realize what I was missing out on.
    The Greeks were strong on oiling hemselves with olive oil too. Guess that made it a bit more of a achieement to grab the guy. And how hard i he to hang on to? Is just the grabbing enough?

  4. Perhaps it's like tickling a spaniel's ear, where they roll over in blissed-out surrender, having been got in the perfect spot.