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Stop! Look! Listen!

January 5, 2009

STOP! LOOK! LISTEN!

 

Is anything better than a sandwich made with vine-ripened tomatoes? The secret is to pick the tomato at just the right time.

Homegrown tomatoes illustrate of the meaning of the Greek word kairos. Grocery store tomatoes are often picked while still green. Fried green tomatoes are delicious, but hardly compare to a delicious red tomato. Kairos means that the time is right: even better, the time is ripe.

The Greeks used kairos for those special times that are non-repetitive, the occasions that occur only once.  Birthdays and anniversaries are kairos moments. The word also refers to those unpredictable experiences that happen at just the right time. Being surprised by a rainbow or a sunset are examples.

             When his five-year-old son asked him for an appointment, Wayne Oates, had a startling moment of truth. Was he so busy that his own child had to have an appointment to talk with him?

Dr. Oates coined the word workaholic. In his book, Confessions of a Workaholic (Word Publishing, 1971), Oates described his own addiction to work.

The meaning of the word workaholic has been skewed in the years since my teacher first used it.  Many of us crowd our calendars and our lives with activity. Few would deny that we are a nation under stress, much of it self-imposed.

One of our Cub Scout sons needed to take a five-mile, in-town hike in order to complete the requirements for an achievement award.  I was required to hike with him, not by the Boy Scouts of America, but by Clare.  I had promised to hike with Scott, but my schedule for the week had become an avalanche of unfinished tasks.  Finally, on Friday afternoon, I threw in the towel, shucked my coat and tie, and put on khaki pants, plaid shirt, and hiking boots for a five-mile stroll with a bright-eyed nine-year-old boy.

The gleam in his blue eyes and the smile on his face told me I had made a good decision.  We were off together, dad and son, leaving behind mom and the four other children.  Children in large families often are treated as one member in a covey.  This was his special, private time with me, and my time with him. It was a kairos moment.

We walked along the sidewalk away from our home. Just beyond the lumberyard, we came to the place where the sidewalk ends, to borrow the title of Shel Silverstein’s children’s book Where the Sidewalk Ends.

We paused at a railroad crossing to examine the once-familiar cross-buck sign lettered with the words: STOP! LOOK! LISTEN! 

It had been years since I had walked a railroad track.  My son and I followed the shiny steel rails.  The railroad ties were too close together for my steps and too far apart for his.  We both had to adjust our stride.  I kept a sharp eye and ear out for any train that might need to use our walkway.

Walking with a child is like walking with God. It requires a slower pace and you see so much more.  A child sees things that adults miss – an old bottle cap, a shiny piece of quartz, a frog in a drainage ditch, a butterfly drinking from a wildflower.  I could soon see that this hike was more than a Cub Scout requirement.  I needed this late afternoon journey, too.

After a mile or so, we came to a place where a sidetrack veered off the main railroad line. Together we followed the spur as it disappeared into a grove of pine trees.  As the railroad siding went further and further into the woods, pine saplings grew between the rails.  Wild daises were blooming in the spaces between the crossties, a clear indication that no locomotive had rumbled along these rusty rails in quite some time.

Down in the grove of pines, we came upon an elderly Southern lady, an abandoned Southern Railway boxcar. We examined the vintage railroad car.  I walked around one side, and my adventurous Cub Scout went around the other side. 

When we met at the rear, he looked at me and said, “Dad this train has been here a long time.” 

I thought, How brilliant of my Cub Scout son to recognize that this boxcar has been here a long time. 

In my daddy/teacher style I asked, “How do you know it has been here a long time?”  I thought he would mention the plants growing between the rails or the accumulated rust on the tracks and wheels. 

Instead, he surprised me.  He pointed up to the ladder on the rear of the boxcar, “Dad, look on the ladder.  There’s a bird’s nest.  Dad, a bird can’t build a nest on a moving train.”

I was stunned! My nine-year-old had given me something to ponder. 

My son and I completed our hike. We walked a little more slowly. 

Later that night, I shared the story of the boxcar and the bird’s nest with Clare.  We agreed that just as a bird can’t build a nest on a moving train, neither could we build a family if we were always on the go.

The kairos moments in life may only happen once. If we miss them, they are gone forever. If we take the time to enjoy these moments, our lives are enriched forever.

When the time is ripe, we need to Stop! Look!  Listen!  

 

Kirk H. Neely

© January 2009

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