“When will it be finished?” ….”When it is ready!”
(Pope Julius and Michelangelo in The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone)
I woke up this morning with a dream in which I thought to have my Own 16 Events Olympics every year, not every four years. This will be a personal Olympics with the only entrant being myself.
Now that sounds a bit silly but allow me to explain.
There are two types of time, i.e. chronos and kairos. We live in both.
And without getting too deep into the history, definitions and philosophy, in short they are:
- Chronos denotes sequential time. It is quantitative. Measured in terms of seconds, minutes, hours. A day. A week. A month. A year. You get the idea. I don’t know about a lifetime.
- Kairos denotes momentary time. It is qualitative. Existential. Indeterminate. Measured in terms of a moment. Sometimes a specific moment at the intersection of “now” and “eternity”. We have all had those.
Years ago a few guys whom I thought of as friends asked me to join them as the MD for their nascent business in Singapore. I will stick to the business side of matters here. It is safer.
After a month the one owner and his wife came to see me in the office and fired me – without salary. Note it was not a board meeting. I shared their apartment and went back, packed my bags and left for an hotel. The following day I wandered through the city. I had very little money (the story is in my book “50 PERSPECTIVES – The Value of Things Unseen”.)
As dusk approached I went to occupy a table at Brewerkz Clarke Quay right on the edge of the river to reflect on what had happened during the past 24 hours.
My third long beer was working its wonders. I looked over the river. The sun was setting. The world had a surreal golden coat on. The little visitor pleasure boats were plying their trade. Then the little Chinese lanterns on one of them became my focus. Next I disappeared into one of the lights.
There was nothing.
I was living a Kairos moment.
As I returned to my Chronos life I took a vow that I will come back to Singapore and that place.
A YEAR LATER
Through an incredible confluence of circumstance over the internet, continents and islands amongst people I never met my wife and I returned within a year. We worked and stayed in Singapore for a number of exciting and wonderful years. We had rewarding and stable jobs. We recovered financially and it set us up for my late semi-retirement.
The Kairos intersection became a reality.
Serendipity became a Main Dish on the Menu of Life.
I have had a few more such moments recently. Latest was an evening on our back verandah and I just had a feeling about the sunset. I lived another Kairos moment and the next day I read that it was considered to perhaps be the most beautiful sunset ever in Melbourne. I daresay more people than I had a Kairos moment.
WHY THE OLYMPICS?
Consider a life in 5-year lumps.
The 5-year difference in our formative years and then again in our senior years (I am now 70) are much more different than the 5-year lumps in our middle years.
And that is where the Personal Olympics come in. To measure how I age Y-O-Y (“year on year” – now THERE is a NEW meaning of Y-O-Y.)
Childhood – The First Serendipity Years
In the 0-5 and 6-10 year age groups serendipity is still the main outcome of activity. There is an urgency about playing and having childlike fun – a casualness about life. Children still believe in Santa Claus and how presents land under the Xmas tree. And they put a glass of milk and cookies out for The Old Guy in the red suit. Kairos is at work. Chronos is on probation.
What is a fortunate happenstance for a boy (a wiggling frog in his trouser pocket)) becomes a not so pleasant surprise for his mom on washday.
The Middle Years
The middle years are Chronos years. They move in a straight line: 20 becomes 21. 29 becomes 30. 39 becomes the Big Four Oh and before you know it The Big Five Oh (nothing to do with Hawaii) rolls around and then it is 60 quickly onwards to retirement. Before you can say “Birthday”.
They are much more “equal” in terms of many parameters (less equal in terms of power sport but more equal in terms of endurance sports).
16-20 see you leave school and maybe go to university or start a job. In my case I did both. Daytime work. Night classes. To pay for my own tuition. Money was a scarce commodity at home.
21-25 are ramp-up years. You buy a car. Think of a house, a partner. A bit of partying and then the “middle years” kick in.
Middle Middle Years
From 30 onwards the middle years kick in. Kick is a very operational verb here. During these years there are a lot of kicking and kissing. At work. And at home. The pressures of life and surrounding reality introduces Chronos. Things happen sequentially. Every month there are bills to pay. Year-end bonuses are an unsure commodity. Santa has grown Claws. Xmas does not leave a present under the tree but a dent in the credit card. And then there is the Tax Bill. There may be a little bit of Kairos that works its magic at the end of a month and the beginning of the next when 30 days seem light years away.
But Chronos is mostly in charge – day by day by day. Month by month.
Retirement is a lifetime away. Literally.
Late Middle Years
Birthdays come around too often. The presents become more modest. Unlike the mid-rift. And that may be one of the reasons why they are called the “middle years”.
Cracks appear in health. “Middlers” start to take up sport again. This time with serious intentions. The cost of high blood pressure pills equal the groceries bills. Gym fees outstrip them both combined. Kids might have grown and have kids of their own. The nearing pension years become a frequent though-of – if not yet talked about – subject.
You get your copy of “OVER 65 And Still in Demand” and look at how to prepare for the “post middle years”. The younger guns in the office get promoted with titles that are preceded by “Senior” and “Principle” (nothing to do with school). At night your bedroom ceiling shares many restless hours.
The Second Serendipity Years
The Senior Years start to roll by.
Chronos assumes a different meaning. Afflictions and visitations are not a straight line anymore. They can seriously differ from year to year. Last year you did not lose your glasses and any keys. This year you have two sets of glasses (both of which you lose by February) and the wife hangs the keys around your neck – with your home address on it.
In most cases the years between 66-70, 71-75, and 76-80 onwards start to resemble a reverse order of 11-15, 6-10, 0-5 but this time the serendipity is often accompanied by a more present and urgent look at spirituality. Is there life after death? If we come back, how do we come back? Or was this going to church bit just a big money-making scam? Last Sunday the choir didn’t sound so great. Am I losing my hearing?
Just 10 years ago it took the fingers of both hands to count your Friday night beer intake. Now it represents the number of pills you take in the morning. And it also feels like your number of nightly toilet visits. After one night cap.
At age 5 a sunset meant that soon you would be called in for dinner, a wash-up and bed. Serendipity. Tomorrow was just a frog-hunt tucked away in the future.
In the middle years the sunset meant a choppy on the barbeque and a few rowdy friends talking about sport. Or last night’s pub crawl. Or car problems. The job.
At age 70 a sunset may mean a glass of wine and a few peanuts in the hand and quiet accompaniment of a partner or friend – reflecting on the brevity of life. Watching a magic sunset. Cloaked in gold. Perhaps the best it has ever been.
And perchance a Kairos moment.
And what becomes very apparent is that time and experience now run in opposite directions.
The older you become and more experience you build up, the less time you have left to use it in. In the early years this is not vividly visible. In fact, the passing of time is seen as a necessity to gain experience. They “seemingly” walk hand in hand.
But in the senior years, they seem to have lost their friendship. They clearly don’t walk hand in hand any more. There is a limit to the “experience” you need. And what other people need from you.
My 16 items are to include things that can be measured in terms of time and quality. All practical and with good outcomes. For example:
- To copy-type a page from a book over a period of 5 minutes and see how many mistakes I have made.
- How far I can walk in 5 minutes.
- The number of names of things I can remember after 5 minutes of learning them.
- Learning a set part of prose – maybe from a Shakespeare play.
- How long does it take to vacuum our house and how many times do I have to rest during it.
- How long does it take to mow the back lawn?
Of course my wife would be the judge and can cast a singular 0/10 or 10/10 vote on the qualitative items.
And I forgot what the other 15 items were. Or was it 10?
At age 5 I was waiting for Santa Claus.
At age 40 Santa = bills.
At age 70 I play Santa Claus.