I was privy to a conversation once about time that left a lasting impression on me. At a downtime moment, one friend asked another about what they were up to. They responded, “just killing some time.” My friend who had posed the question responded back, “never kill time, always live time.” I had not really given much thought to the expression until then and had heard it (and admittedly used it) many times. Once my friend brought it to my attention, though, I decided to remove the phrase from my repertoire of go to responses. Living versus killing time has a better ring to it. I thought of this scenario recently, because I think this notion of ‘living time’ is one that can be aptly applied to our current holding pattern. The subtleties of our language and our attitudes can greatly affect how we experience our time, particularly during the ‘bein hazmanim’ (intermediary) period we are in right now, in anticipation of the upcoming academic year. Sensitizing ourselves to these nuances can make an important difference in how we teach and learn, no matter what forms they take this year.
There is always some element of uncertainty that comes with time, no matter how much we plan. When our ability to plan or the likelihood of things going as planned is challenged, the uncertainty becomes more pronounced. Contending with ambiguity is an experience that can feel unsettling, but also evoke aspects of our character that enable us to ride the waves of time and feel like we somehow come out ahead. What can we do to support the idea of living time, especially when it seems to have become so blurred? How can we accept the knowable unknowns regarding the upcoming school year and be strong role models for our students? Three ideas come to mind that I would like to share. One, is developing a friendlier relationship with uncertainty so that we can sit alongside it a little more comfortably. Another is aiming to keep peace in our respective homes while developing our own coping skills. Finally, it helps to have a model. Engaging in in each of these areas can have a positive overflow into our teaching and learning.
Sitting with something undesired can trigger all sorts of unfavorable responses, both internally and externally. There is something interesting to note, though, about antagonistic company. The greater resistance we pose to it, the greater resistance it poses to us. I learned this lesson from a physical therapist once in the context of working through muscle tightness and it has since become my go to metaphor adaptable to areas beyond anatomy. The more we wish something is not there, the more glaring it often becomes. Conversely, accepting its presence sometimes makes it more manageable. Accepting the limitations of our knowledge and our ability to plan can be very humbling. It can also pave the way, though, for openness and receptiveness to creativity and change. Accepting a given reality can be a very healing step in developing necessary tools to forge new paths forward. The process may involve rerouting many times over until we find our way but with persistence, faith, and a growth mindset, it can be very rewarding. This can be an impetus for growth for educators and students alike.
As important, if not more so, than sitting more comfortably with uncertainty, is keeping a peaceful environment in our homes throughout the journey. Each member of one’s household is undoubtedly experiencing their own give and take with uncertainty and affected by it in their own unique way. The tone we set with our words and behaviors can be very influential in the lives of others, especially the ones we live with. In turn, their experiences will very much influence ours as well. It can become very cyclical. Choosing hopeful positive language and caring considerate behaviors will help foster an atmosphere of loving kindness. This is an integral component for creating a safe space where a sense of teamwork, emotional support, and effective communication can thrive. Inevitably, there will be times when we feel more positively inclined than others and so it is helpful to remember that sometimes positivity comes from the inside out and at other times from the outside in. The ways in which we choose to express ourselves toward others can help create the realities we aspire toward. This is true for our homes and classrooms.
A model for uncertainty and triumph that I have found inspiring is the biblical personality of Jonah. The descriptive language of Jonah’s own conscience while inside the fish tells us a multilayered story. We are given a window into Jonah’s internal experience while he himself is in the innards of another being. He is in a state of uncertainty within the confines of a being in its own unpredictable state. The textual narrative is rich in detail of Jonah’s healing journey. Through the tumultuous events of the story, he ultimately regains stability and security in his life and in his mission, but as a renewed self. There are metaphors within the story for introspection and prayer, and the story itself has been read by Kabbalists and Torah commentators as a metaphor for re-connection and healing. While we may identify with Jonah’s experience of living life through a storm and contending with finding ourselves amidst the ensuing challenges, we may also derive hope from his self-discovery and resurgence of purpose that followed.
It is so important that we honor the process of finding our own meaning in this experience that we are in. As we pay closer attention to our word choices, behaviors, and ultimately how we identify our time, we will be more fully present in our homes and respective relationships and work environments. As we more mindfully live time, we will also model a healthy and well-balanced relationship with uncertainty for our children and our students. That is an essential tool not only for a pandemic time, but for all time.