Friday, January 25, 2013

Time flies like an arrow, folds like a... something...

We all have analogies for time: the Western world tends to view time as a river, a winding road, a captivating story, a marching army... something linear, at any rate.  The eastern world might propose time as a ring, a band, a loop, something cyclical.  Frankly, I don't find either model all that satisfying.  Time seems to me to be too complicated to be reduced to something familiar or material.

Sometimes, the best we can do is to take a few analogies together.  Here's my humble contribution to the laundry list of metaphors and graphic organizers: I believe that time folds...  like a piece of paper... like a winter quilt as it is being packed into the closet... like an umbrella being set aside after a rainstorm.  Time may march or flow, rush or crawl, but occasionally we experience moments where time simply folds.

These are moments that align specific instants from past, present and a yet-unknown future like slides from a projectionist's reel, or like squares of a well-worn handkerchief.  In these moments, the "now" huddles between what has been and what will be in a strangely intimate way and in these moments, we are afforded a clear view of havens long departed and destinations not yet reached.  These moments, which link past, present and future, are known as traditions.

The CAJ community has a wide array of rich and much-loved traditions: Thrift Shop, the Senior trip to Thailand, the Middle school pasta-bridge and egg-drop competitions, plays, musicals, concerts and games, graduation.  The event that inspired me to think this through and to write this post was last Friday's Senior talent show.  Each year, typically at the end of January or in early February, the Senior class puts on an evening of music, dancing and other types of performance to raise money for their building project in Thailand.

Perhaps this event stands out so vividly to me because it was the first major CAJ tradition that I experienced when I arrived here in 2009.  I had only been here two weeks, I didn't know many of the students, and I had no idea if I'd still be in Japan the following year.  In fact, I assumed that I wouldn't be.  Nonetheless, as I walked down the stairs of the auditorium after the show, I turned to some Juniors walking next to me and told them to start thinking of ideas for their own talent show, as one year would have passed by before they knew it.  I repeated this advice to small groups of sophomores and freshmen as well, that two, three years would pass by with stunning swiftness, that in no time at all, their turn to perform would have come and gone.

Each year did just that; came and went.  The juniors had their turn, then those sophomores, then those freshmen.  Each class was unique, and the shows that they put on reflected the flavor of each class.  Yet, each evening was strikingly similar: many of the same teachers, students, parents and siblings filled the same auditorium on a chilly evening to watch Seniors perform to raise money for the same cause as the year before.  Each year, I would dutifully repeat my advice to juniors, sophomores and freshmen, to start planning because the time flies.

This year, I left the auditorium and as I began this routine, having spotted a group of my junior students, I realized that the class that had just performed were not among the original recipients of my advice.  They'd been in 8th grade that year, and though they'd heard my advice each following year, I'd decided they were too young, and their turn too far off for me to bother them with an encouragement to start planning ahead.  How wrong I was!  Their turn on the stage came fast, and was watched by not only teachers, family and future Seniors, but also alumni who had performed in years before.  I looked out at the small, huddled groups of CAJ students, the juniors, the sophomores and freshmen, even the middle schoolers and I realized that very instant was enfolded snugly between past and future.  When I'd talked to the underclassmen four years ago, I couldn't have imagined them as college students preparing for careers.  Soon, and perhaps too soon, these kids will be up on the CAJ stage performing.  Soon, and perhaps too soon, they will work their way through college and be set loose upon the "real world".  Will they be ready?  Will I have done all I could, as one of their teachers, to prepare them?

The moment caused my head to spin, and I gripped the hand-rail extra tight to support myself.  Then, the moment passed, and I walked up to the group of Juniors, asked them how they liked the show and told them to start planning ahead...

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