A cultural word morphed by Christianity
In a scene from Dead Poets Society, Professor John Keating challenges his boarding school English class. They sheepishly stand in front of the trophy case peering inquisitively into the photographs of alumna. The professor speaks with a deliberate tone about the boys in the faded black and white photographs:
They're not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they're destined for great things, just like many of you; their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because, you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen, you hear it?
Carpe! Hear it?
Carpe! Carpe diem! Seize the day boys. Make your lives extraordinary. Why does the call to live extraordinary lives ring so loudly for some they are compelled to follow it with a zealous passion? What causes the same call for others to become merely a drone to ignore amidst all the other noises of life? No matter where one falls on this continuum the call remains the same for every human being. Carpe diem! [Literally, pluck the day] Choose to live in such a way that reflects the extraordinariness of your life. Position yourself to get caught up in the great drama. You have been destined to make an impact.
The span of time that measures a person’s life is referred to as a lifetime. Each person has a limited span of time to live. Yet each person is given the opportunity to leave a legacy which is about contribution, significance, and things that really matter. Could there be two spans of time, whether recognized or not, which actually intersect?
Kronos (kronos) is the ancient Greek word which refers to sequential or linear time. In Greek mythology, the god Chronos, pictured as elderly, gray-haired and bearded, was the personification of time. Kronos is symbolized by the newborn baby that ushers in the New Year and ends the year as a bent-over old man: Father Time. We know kronos time as chronology; tick-tock time. It is measured, or chronicled, by clocks, hours, minutes and seconds. It is the time in which we make appointments and face deadlines. It tends to be more of a nemesis or taskmaster than a friend. We schedule our lives by it. Most people speak of never having enough of it as we race around the clock to make sure we maximize the time. Some even refer to much of life as “putting in the time.”
Jonathan Larsen’s Broadway Musical Rent questions the measure of time, and parenthetically, the quality of kronos time with the lyrics of “Seasons of Love”: Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand Six Hundred Minutes
How Do You Measure - Measure A Year?
In Daylights - In Sunsets
In Midnights - In Cups Of Coffee
In Inches - In Miles
In Laughter - In Strife
In - Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand Six Hundred Minutes
How Do You Measure a Year In The Life?
How About Love?
Larsen’s lyrics, while suggesting the continuum of life, carry angst for something more than tick-tock time. In the journey of kronos time is there, could there be something more significant, something of value, something legacy-driven that gives lasting impact to kronos time? The ancient Greeks would answer in the affirmative.
Kairos (kairos), even though the Greek meanings are complex and culturally dependent, refers to the right time, opportune time or seasonable time. It cannot be measured. It is the perfect time, the qualitative time, the perfect moment, the “now.” Kairos brings transcending value to kronos time. Eric Charles White, in Kaironomia: On the Will-to-Invent, defines kairos with this imagery: