When Kairos looks like your dog…
It’s not just a Jesuit thing, this concept of “kairos” — meaning opportune time, or God-controlled time. Daily life flies by, or we slog through; it seems to unfold glacially or in a heady rush. This summer, I decided to really notice and focus on the important kairos moments. I once was a passenger on a team bus at the end of the season, and the coach was “encouraging” the guys to use their time off to make changes. He claimed, “you can change your body in eight weeks!”, which is true, but that’s a different essay. What I took away from that was to use the precious gaps between semesters to grow, and be better ready to balance the chaos that is each new school year. So I tried to train myself to note the kairos moments as they unfolded. You can change your body in eight weeks, and you can change your outlook in that time, too. There were enormous kairos moments, along with tinier but still powerful ones. And there were times, unexpectedly, that kairos looked like my dog.
Not long ago, as we considered adding another dog to our family, I kept saying to my spouse that I wanted a dog who needed us. My friend Karen rescues dogs, and in early summer, found herself bringing seventeen dogs all at once from a kill shelter in Texas. She pleaded with all her friends to please foster or adopt, and though my spouse hesitated, he did say maybe he’d look at the one shepherd-mix pup with a heart-shaped face. That dog met me nose-to-nose in a local park, and that was that and now she’s mine. Kairos is that moment when we caught each others’ breath, and Karen had her camera at the ready so I feel that kairos again, every time I see that photo.
Some mornings, I think I’ll sleep in. I’m wrong, of course. There’s this dog, nose against my neck, nudging (or herding) me out of bed. She was skittish about everything, terrified of thunder and fireworks, unsure about squirrels and bunnies and pinecones and stairs, hesitant to leave her blanket for the whole first month I had her, but that dog could run on a leash alongside me like a champ. I’d often said I’d like a dog who will run with me. Kairos, as she herds me out of bed and into my shoes. Kairos, as she matches my pace, jogging easily with me. Kairos, as she lays her head in my lap while I sit on the stone steps of the patio and have coffee after a run.
Running is different now. When I was training for an event, it was measured and necessary. Right now it’s just for me, and it’s easier; it is time with the world before the day breaks. I don’t go far, and I’m not fast, but it’s peaceful out there pre-dawn, and holds those kairos moments that shape how I start most days. Kairos is sunrise over the pond, it’s seeing the moon still high while the sun comes up. It’s having shoes wet from dew on the trail. It’s coming face to face ten feet from a deer, having the deer blink slowly at you, then disappear into the stand of trees like a baseball player into Ray Kinsella’s corn. Did that just happen? Kairos.
Sometimes kairos is simple: the coffee is pretty damn good. Sometimes it is complex: someone who is too young dies too soon, and you are moorings in a storm of grief. Sometimes it is joy: dear friends become grandmothers. Sometimes it is empathy: your son alerts you friends have just had to put their dog down, and could use some kindness. A student asks for help: kairos. Your child seeks your opinion: kairos. Brunch with girlfriends. A sweet text from a former student while you both watch a wedding dance. Naomi Shahib Nye’s poem “Two Countries” shows up in your poem-a-day email the day you have a surgery. Tailgating in the rain. Watching the moon from the patio. Eating soul food in Dallas. Someone calls you beautiful, on a tough day. A package from your sister. Finish reading a really great book. “Tupelo Honey” on acoustic guitar. Browsing art fairs. Your favorite scone from your daughter. Peaches from the farm-stand. Kairos. Kairos. Kairos.
Then early one evening, my sweet dog broke off her tether chasing a UPS truck (I know, that sounds like the start of a bad joke…), and just like that, she was gone down our quiet street and out of sight. I took off after her, and I’m not fast, but as I heard the squealing brakes and shouting from the rush-hour-busy four-lane road ahead, I covered some serious ground. I don’t know my sprint time for the quarter-mile from our driveway to the corner, but the soles of my bare feet were torn up afterward. When I got to the corner, I saw my dog running in circles in traffic, and one woman standing in the road, stopping the approaching cars. My dog saw me, heard my shouts, and ran toward me. I crouched with her safe in the grassy culvert, calling out my thanks to the woman in traffic, who called back that she lived right there and did I need leash? Yes, I nodded. Yes. “I’m a dog-lover”, she said. Me, too, I whispered, holding my shaking scared dog. And just like that, kairos is a stranger with a leash.
And the next morning, you feel her wet nose against your ribcage nudging you awake. You lace ’em up, and get back out there, running miles even though your feet are are battered and bruised and hurting, and you see the sky shift from dark to dawn. And you realize none of this is a metaphor; it is kairos.