Diary of a Confused Time Traveler

Time zones weird me out. Even though I’m
going on eight years of experience setting up Skype dates with parents who are
5-10 hours ahead of me, depending on which coast I’m on and
what the hell is up with daylight-saving time, it’s still totally surreal to
talk to my parents while they are in the future. When the international date line gets involved, I completely lose track of what day it
is and just have to guess whether it’s yesterday evening or tomorrow

The problem isn’t with counting the hours
backward or forward from wherever I am on the globe. The real difficulty
comes in reconciling the fact that all these times of day are happening
concurrently, even though it’s not actually the same time or the same day. Everything
starts to feel less and less real the more I think about it. In addition to all
of the benefits of having the opportunity to live where I do, I seem to have
been burdened with a fractured sense of self that I’m still not
always sure how to handle.

We all have different versions of ourselves:
the person we were in elementary school, middle school, high school, college,
our semester abroad. Most of us have spent our lives being pulled along from
place to place and from decision to decision by an inexorable force that continually
asks us to choose where we will be and who we will become next. But no matter
how powerful our forward impetus, we leave memories, moments, bits of
existential debris that, even if they’re invisible to everyone else, are
difficult to escape and even more difficult to reconcile into a unified sense
of self.

In search of some unity, I’d like to go all
the way back to one of my favorite books from childhood: Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. Like most precocious readers,
I first read it before I was quite ready for it, so I’ve kept coming back to it
over the years. I recall a seventh-grade book report in which I tried to draw a
tesseract (a way of traveling through time and space that expands beyond our
everyday 3-D world) by drawing a bunch of cubes connecting into a
tunnel. I doubt that image made it into the final presentation—even then I
could tell it was not an especially compelling or particularly accurate
representation of the fourth and fifth dimensions—but what sticks with me is the satisfaction
of convincing myself that it was OK for there to be two kinds of time—”chronos” and “kairos,” in Greek—which were connected in malleable ways.

I’m pretty sure that if I asked anyone who
actually studies this stuff, I’d have to totally discard my concept of time
and space as a floppy tunnel not unlike a magical Slinky. Still, it’s very
comforting to be able to imagine my experience today as one end of an almost corporeal
tube through time, which connects me to the years when I was a confused
first-year, an ambitious high schooler, an eager child. 

L’Engle’s basic premise,
as I understand it, is that “chronos”
is the passage of time as articulated by my Swiss watch. I can look at the
gears and hear it ticking along, and I know exactly how many seconds, hours,
and miles stand between one part of my life and another. “Kairos,” on the other hand, is a more flexible time dictated more
by our emotional and spiritual connectedness and self-awareness than precise

Not everyone’s wrinkle in time manifests
itself in time capsule memories of our exploits as first-years, although a
memorable evening when seniors stormed Wig Hall my first year suggests that
nostalgia does attach itself to campus geography. Still, the feeling of
walking into places where we’ve left past versions of ourselves pervades the
college experience, whether it happens on trips home, to past residence halls,
or anywhere else. Even from day one, we’re faced with the fact that, no matter
how nice it might be to stay in college forever, we’ll eventually leave
versions of ourselves here, faint echoes we can only hope to encounter after a
few years somewhere else.

Rather than getting lost in the dizzying spin
of nostalgia, though, we should try to reconcile these
chronologically disparate pieces of ourselves. Just because time and space get
in the way doesn’t mean any of us stops being one whole person. There’s
something powerful in that. Our senses of self are still there even when we’re
not looking, and to me that’s a huge relief. 

I may never be able to fully,
instinctively understand that around the globe, it can be 24 different hours of
the day at once. Conversely, even with Walt Whitman’s help, it’s hard to
process that I do, in fact, contain multitudes. Still, it’s worth trying to mash it all
together and locate some unifying sense of “kairos”
in these disparate moments. And when self-actualization is just too much work,
there’s always Take Back Wig. 

Julia Austenfeld PO ’15 is a music major from Fribourg, Switzerland and Raleigh, N.C.

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