Academic journal article College Composition and Communication

Metanoic Movement: The Transformative Power of Regret

Academic journal article College Composition and Communication

Metanoic Movement: The Transformative Power of Regret

Article excerpt

I have been to the Grand Canyon twice, but I have only seen it once. In fact, I stood at the edge of the Grand Canyon two different times, but I only saw it once. Come to find out, it is possible for the entire canyon, every grand inch, to fill up with fog-a fog so thick that a person can stand on an outcropping at the jagged edge of a natural phenomenon and see nothing but solid, bright gray. As I stood there, I knew that my feet should feel tingly, the way they always do when I'm on the edge of something, but they didn't. So I stood and stared into gray light, surrounded by a quiet that I will never forget. It's a strange and stirring feeling to witness a natural wonder firsthand, but I think it is even stranger, and maybe even more stirring, to brush by one.

Years later, it happened again. I traveled from Tucson, Arizona, to Niagara, New York, spent three days there, and never got to see the falls. The entire town stood still, wrapped in the silence of heavy snowfall, but everywhere I went the sound of rushing water echoed in my ears. During my visit I learned that Niagara Falls provides power for states all the way down to Georgia, it is divided evenly between two countries, and every year an unpublicized number of people soar over the edge-sometimes intentionally and other times not. I expected the Niagara River to move with a frighteningly quick current, but it was deceptively calm. I watched large chunks of ice glide lazily across a white/ gray surface, contradicting the warning signs that line the shore. I learned about its history, watched its river flow by, slept in a bed two miles away, but I left the area without seeing the falls.

For years, I framed both of these experiences as missed opportunities- kairotic moments that I could not seize. I traveled all that way and did not get to see what I wanted to see, what I was supposed to see. I don't know if I will ever get back to Niagara Falls, and I still feel the sadness and longing of that missed opportunity. And yet, while the emotional experience of a missed moment may be more visible, I have come to realize that the experience of seeing and seizing a kairotic moment also contains loss. Kairos inevitably sharpens our attention and narrows our view, limiting what we see and value. In moments when the kairotic opportunity cannot be seen or seized, a new view opens up, creating the opportunity to consider a different range of possibilities. In these moments, we have the opportunity to experience metanoia.

As the partner of kairos, metanoia represents the "or else" element of the story: seize opportunity or else.1 The allegorical story is a familiar one: when Opportunity appears, a person has that one moment-kairos-to seize the god by the hair. Any hesitation and Opportunity vanishes, the back of his head bald and ungraspable. Those who do not embrace Kairos reside with Metanoia. On the surface, the story creates a strict and foreboding distinction between the opportune versus inopportune or seized versus missed moments. The story frames missed opportunities as negative, something that we must strive to avoid, thus asserting pressure on kairos as the pinnacle of achievement and success. Looking more closely at metanoia's role, however, invites ways to revise and expand the story and experience of opportunity.

The process of metanoia begins with what feels like a missed opportunity, but if the person remains suspended in regret, then metanoia has not yet occurred. Regret and disappointment are elements of metanoia, but they do not represent the entirety of the experience. These feelings serve as a starting point or catalyst in the larger experience of metanoia. When framed as partner concepts, kairos and metanoia broaden opportunity beyond a single moment, reshaping the experience of opportunity into a longer process that unfolds over time. If kairos represents key moments, openings, and turning points, then metanoia provides a way to envision the experiences that exist outside and around those moments of opportunity. …

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