I can still see it so clearly, 2 words written permanently into my mind on the blackboard in the basement: Chronos and Kairos. My dad had given a lesson at "children's time" that previous Sunday about these words. Chronos is Greek for time and implied simply the time that passes around a clock. But Kairos, Kairos is the meat here. It loosely translates to the times of our lives and this is the word that made Dad grin and well-up just explaining it to us. All of the experiences that we deem major-life-moments are Kairos.
In lyric-writing I've repeatedly used, or alluded to, the phrase "time and space." It's even become a stupid little quip I utter when someone is reminiscing: "time and space, man...time and space." It's those moments when the mind's eye can picture perfectly who we were, who we were with, where we were, and what we were there for. Kairos exists in the sites, sounds, smells, tastes, and feels of the time and space we're in.
In 2003 I moved from Grand Rapids to St. Louis, Missouri, simply because I could. I scored a job and moved with one car-load into a studio apartment in The Loop. I was a Teacher-Assistant at a school for "adjudicated youths" (court ordered because of bad behavior) in a "secure" facility (magnets locked all the doors), and we had padded rooms to hold kids when they'd violently act out. Before the school year started I was trained on how to properly restrain and physically disable kids when they posed a threat to themselves or others. I don't want to say they could smell my fear, but certainly they could sense my naivete. My love of extreme music, vegan-straight-edge lifestyle, and general unfamiliarity with all things pop-culture baffled them, which should've given me some sort of advantage, but really just made me feel disconnected from their world. As the lone, young white guy on staff I was often a focal point of ranting and raving when these children lost control and tumbled down their behavioral rabbit-holes. One particular time, I remember being encircled by staff who were trying to talk this older kid down as he spit his rage at me. As he called me every name in the book and threatened me up and down, I had to sit in silence in order to prevent escalation. It was demoralizing, but I was patted on the back for doing the right thing in that moment. But I think that was a turning point where I realized I didn't want to be a Teacher-Assistant much longer. During the summer program we received notice that that boy died in a car crash fleeing police. And I have a pit in my stomach because I can't remember his name.
It was a grueling experience that I cut short to follow greener pastures after a year, but boy do I remember so much of that year: the ring from my first Nokia cell phone, the florescent gas station light across the street that never went off, the sounds and smells of rush-hour traffic clogging up the intersection at Skinker and Delmar, the sound of coffee beans grinding at Meshuggah's coffee shop, the excitement I felt browsing used CDs in Vintage Vinyl record store, the taste of apple-cinnamon pop-tarts - specially delivered to our room because they were vegan, the vision of 6-feet-200-pound Lavon sleeping on his desk immediately upon arrival every day, Tremaine covering up some mischief in his devious smile with beaming braces, sweet Josh's poor acne covered nose (he was my favorite), Ms. Kim standing in the doorway beckoning a student in her ever-so-Delores-Umbridge sort of way, tossing frisbees at shattering-against-the-wall speed after school with Coach in the gym, seeing The Passion of the Christ in the theater and quickly regretting that choice, discovering the Vietnamese market sold "mock-duck" and making my version of tuna-fish out of it, being sonically-floored by Modern Life is War at the Lemp Arts Space, napping after work and waking up at midnight to realize I just had to go back to sleep, running through the adult playground they call the City Museum, staring up at the great Arch in downtown, and I could go on...and on. These moments are so clear in my mind.
One of the major focuses of the program at the school was good decision making; trying to get the kids to think about what they were doing as they were doing it and convincing them to choose a better behavior. It sounds like TV crime shows, but we'd often say "you don't have to do this," unfortunately, most of the time it was too late. The behavioral pattern was already in play and they'd already determined there was no turning back. I was 23 and felt out of step with the world, and most days, at least at work, I felt the shiver of survival in some way or another. My stint in St. Louis was a minuscule blip on my life's radar, but it was such a vital time.
I often wonder within moments if they'll be something I remember in years to come? Will they be as visceral as 2003? Will they turn out to be Kairos? And then I immediately scold myself for not allowing myself to be in that moment. The phrase itself, "the times of our lives," just sounds whimsical and makes me want to drift into memory-dreamscapes where all the light and fluffy things jump out and hug me. But without adversity perhaps those things wouldn't be as memorable. As I canvas the time and space of the "times of my life," luckily, for the most part, feelings of gratitude outweigh my sense of hardship. From the time Dad explained it to me I always felt Kairos celebrated the positive things in life, that must've been his natural take of it, thankfully, it rings true for me too.