Eric Charles White, in Kaironomia: On the Will-To-Invent, defined kairos as “a passing instant when an opening appears which must be driven through with force if success is to be achieved.”
A transient moment, seized with design, leading to dreams fulfilled.
Kairos plucks success out of the random winds of mere “opportunity” and grants us the ability to reach out and take it.
Kairos means more than being in the right place at the right time. We’ve all heard the old saying “opportunity knocks but once.” Kairos demands that we answer the door.
So, how could that tidbit of ancient language trivia, courtesy of the Greeks, possibly relate to Amanda Gorman’s poem, “The Hill We Climb”?
Levels of Context & Understanding
To understand the connection, we first must understand Amanda Gorman. Miss Gorman was raised by a single parent. Her mother was an English teacher, and encouraged Amanda’s passion for reading and writing. She grew up with a speech impediment that required her to take speech therapy. Rather than shy away from that challenge, she met it head on and never let it define her or limit her opportunities.
In 2014, Amanda Gorman was selected to be the first Youth Poet Laureate of Los Angeles, and in 2017 she was chosen to be the first National Youth Poet Laureate.
Based on Amanda’s many accomplishments, Dr. Jill Biden recommended Amanda recite a poem at the Presidential Inauguration of her husband, Joe Biden, an opportunity for which she was selected. Matching the theme of the event, “America United” were her only instructions.
Her poem, “The Hill We Climb” began life a few short sentences a day, painfully born, being only half finished at the beginning of January. Doubts as to her ability to finish, and even as to the quality of the piece, began to haunt her.
Then Came January 6th.
The events that day inspired her. Words that came slowly, painfully before now flowed forth, borne on the tides of civil unrest. She finished the poem that very night.
Reciting the poem’s while at Joe Biden’s presidential inauguration was the right time. Her words became stronger because they were spoken at that lectern on that day. They would not have been as nationally and globally powerful if they’d existed only on the page.
That work-in-progress, inspired to completion by the Capital riots, has resonated around the world. That violence inspired Gorman with the words, images and phrases necessary to finish her masterwork.
The right time and place, the inauguration. Her words tapped into our collective anxieties and reassured us that democracy, while capable of being endangered, is never defeated.
However, despite being given an opportunity, it was up to Amanda Gorman to step up, meet the challenge, and succeed past fears, self-doubt, and the crushing pressure of creation.
During these winds of change times, she used her words to express an observation that bears deep significance. When she tapped into the fears of a nation, her message gained a kind of power, a resonance that it would have lacked otherwise.
So many Americans – touched because she head-on addressed the divisive mood our country was in.
Many Kairos moments encompass an aspect of timeliness. By tapping into a time that’s huge but fleeting, they stand out and become immortal.
Think about other “right times” throughout history. Which ones can you think of and name? Are there big ones or little ones that you’ve been a part of? Pieces of writing that you did, which touched on the zeitgeist of the moment and became bigger than you expected?
Tell us about them. We’re listening.
Editors note: This article was drafted by MJ Vieweg and written by Anthony “Tony” Caldwell.