“Time folds you in its folds…Time folds you in the blanket of itself, it folds you tenderly and wraps you round, for where would you be without it.” Margaret Atwood
No one remembers to breathe anymore. They don’t stop. They are too busy rushing, fretting, and getting things done. No one has any time. They are rubbing their eyes, they are sighing, they are saying, “Hold on just a minute til I do this.” Then they pause. They half listen. They apologise. There is so much to do and not enough hours in the day.
“Where is the life we have lost in living?” T.S. Eliot
I made some decisions a few years back, in that year when illness demanded I stop. That year I had no choice. The illness had our full attention. We watched every outer sign; we examined the blood tests and hung onto the words of specialists. For months we fumbled for light as if in a dark basement trying to remember where the door was. We searched for its strip under the door, to lead us back to the life we missed but it seemed that God had another plan. Try as we might, we couldn’t grasp the healing we wanted. Instead of light the strip offered a draft of thin air and we leaned toward it forcing ourselves to be satisfied with the soft breeze.
Sometimes you want the sun and instead God sends a zephyr. It will drive you mad if you let it. Social media will taunt you with the way others are supposedly living their lives; family dinners and picture postcard experiences. You feel sorry for yourself, angry at life and everyone else’s good fortune. Then with the breeze comes His whisper and you lie down in order to hear His words. In the darkness I came to see the invisible man who dragged up the plastic chair beside me. That year, that horrible year, when I finally lay down my agenda, I discovered a new relationship. I see Him now, in my memory leaning against the doorframe in His suit, holding His hat in His hand.
“How long have you been standing there?” I queried.
“If only you knew time.” Came his response.
I came to long for those visits. That presence. Mostly it happened when all was silent, when I had stopped rushing down to the kiosk for treats, or the pharmacy for drugs, or the cashier to have my car park card certified. I never noticed him when I was rushing. I didn’t run into him in the corridors, I didn’t see him at the nurses’ station or where the patients watched TV. He came when she was sleeping, while I cried silently by her bed. He came as I sat wondering if it were time to make my way to the car, to head home to the other children whom I loved equally but who were not ill. He came to take my place, to dry my tears and to reassure me that all would be well.
“Take your time in the morning,” he’d say, “don’t rush back. Sit, reflect, and then come.”
In that year I discovered the power of pausing and I decided that when life returned to normal, however one defines normal, I would keep the pause in my daily ritual.
You have to fight to protect the pause. People are watching, they are judging, they are evaluating what you do. Maybe they aren’t. Maybe it’s just you and your perceptions of the way things are but inwardly you feel guilty if someone catches you staring into space. Yet staring into space is very valuable.
Kessler writes, “Periods of silent reflection not only soothe the soul but allow the associations, consolidation and imprinting needed for effective learning.” God wants us to find Him in the silence. He teaches us to pause and to learn from Him. In Genesis 32:24 we read about Jacob being left alone and wrestling with a man til daybreak. It’s an interesting verse! Sometimes being alone feels like abandonment but sometimes God has something so special to teach us that He separates us from all other distractions. Sometimes He finds us in the middle of what seems hard.
I am blessed to work with a community of teachers who deeply value reflective practice. At the end of a learning session, or an assignment or after a new experience we ask the students: what did you like? What did you learn? What would you do differently? It’s amazing what they say and what comes from discussion. Sometimes we decide to ‘sleep-on’ what we’ve discussed and see if we feel the same way tomorrow. After a longer reflection the experience often makes a lot more sense. We discover that hard isn’t bad, that uncertainty is not the end and that we have grown as a result of the challenge.
When we pause and breathe and reflect, time stops just like the clock in the dining room when I was a child. I remember my father tapping the glass on the old fisherman’s clock, opening the door, after finding the key in the drawer, fitting it in the slot that rewound the cogs and the wheels so time could begin again.
Breathe deep, rise early, stay up late if you have to, but don’t neglect the time of reflection that hoists the clouds, that puts weights on the chains and causes the hour to chime. Do it today before “time,” as Atwood writes, “folds you in its arms and gives you one last kiss and then flattens you out and folds you up and tucks you away until it’s time for you to become someone else’s past time.”