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Commentary: The Spaces Between

Jim Cunningham align=left

Are you focused on Christmas? Or perhaps there's a big meeting after the Holidays you can't get out of your mind. WFAE commentator Jim Cunningham has some advice. On a recent visit with my wife to the Harvey Gantt Center, I saw an essay with this phrase: "the interstices of time and space." Interstices - the spaces between. When I was a child, I remember one day watching as raindrops began to fall. I could see the individual drops, each discrete in its downward journey, with spaces between the drops. I thought, then, that if I ran fast and dodged cleverly enough, I could run into the rain, missing the drops by aiming between them. I ran out into the rain and back, and, amazingly, I was dry - I had found the spaces between the drops (or, at least, I thought I had!) I think of that now - the spaces between the drops, the seemingly empty places with drops all around. The spaces between are important, I think. Many years later, I was trying to learn to ski in the trees, stands of closely packed aspen. I would ski into a group of trees and try to turn, but my balance was off and I couldn't turn. I would stop, or fall, time and again, intimidated by the thought of running into a tree. I later asked an instructor about skiing in the trees. He said I was looking at the trees. "Look at where you want to go. Look at the spaces between the trees." Ah, the spaces between. Suddenly, it clicked. Looking towards the spaces between, and not at what to avoid, worked. All of a sudden I could ski in the trees like a pro. When I was learning the play the banjo, my teacher warned me of how crucial the timing was. "Don't worry about playing a lot of notes," he said. "It's not the notes. It's the spaces between the notes that matter." Again, the spaces between. How that resonates with me! I agonize about upcoming meetings, worry about cooking a new dish correctly, fret about an upcoming doctor's appointment. Between the events, though, are the spaces I'm missing - the interstices of time and space that separate the things in our life. How much time do we spend focusing on the trees, the drops, the things to avoid, and miss those marvelous pauses in between, that give us time to breathe, and refocus, and move forward? Without appreciating the spaces between, we bounce from event to event like a pinball, willy-nilly. I think it's the spaces between the trees at which we need to look. The things that happen are what capture our attention - but it's the moments between that define our lives. Those portals of stillness, crevices of time and place that give us the focus to move onward - through the spaces between. Jim Cunningham is a Charlotte psychologist.