Grace Notes: Take stock and give yourself some time to breathe

Reel backward through your memories and picture this:
You are 10 and it is your turn to collect the playground equipment. You get to ignore the bell, stay out in the sun, gather all the wayward rubber balls rolling into the weedy chain-linked corners where the children never go. You are standing near the tetherball court and the bell to end recess just rang. The sounds on the playground shift abruptly from chase, glee, bounce, to stop, gather, circle-in. The tennis shoe slap of feet pounds all around you; rubber-pink balls bounce ping and echo once more, twice more and then fade away for you to find. You don’t hurry.

The other children begin a slow weave, in an awkward accordion unravel and ravel back moving toward the numbered doors, the ordered rooms, the day going on past play. Sweaters are slung over shoulders, or tied across the butts of small boys, the slight waists of the girls. Dirt all around, under noses, fingernails, the green spill of crushed leaves dots the knees of jeans, blue in their newness.

You don’t move with them even though you can imagine your body moving inside, practiced and obedient, like it does each day. You are still here — tennis-shoed and rooted and privileged.

Their left behind sounds — the echoes and voices repeating in song and note and sigh — float above the ground and then begin their rise.

The tether ball clasp hits the side of the pole and rings across the asphalt. Then a silence like God calling, a silence like God sweeping across the four-squared yellow lines. You imagine Him cupping the play voices rising all around you, small balloons rising in the air.

You have stopped the move of your day leaving you in this child space listening. Such power you have and swell with it for a moment. You mark this space and time, and know it stands beside, not in, the clock of your day. You mark this memory in your head to ensure your trail back to it — and only then do you move to cover the playground with invisible lines of search and capture.

The balls drawn in and secured, you move toward the door, the chalk board, the desks marred by scratches and hearts, the utterances of children you imagine calling you back.

And then you grow and grow and forget that marked time. What you remember now is that you are repeatedly called back and back and back to your day — you have forgotten the leaving.

Time depends on how much more we have to do and how much we know we will never get done. What then of taking stock, what of reflection and repentance and the lofty goals of growth? When does soul searching get to happen?

It can begin by attending to the hours. Just the “little hours” called terce and sext and none. The 3rd and 6th and 9th hours of the day. For thousands of years, days have been broken into sections and numbered and named by the hours. The Christians learned it from the Jews, the Jews from Romans, Romans from Greeks. Religions of this time, across the globe, use hours to call them toward prayer.

Right outside of our very town, day in and day out, the women at the Abbey of St. Walburga near Virginia Dale sing the Liturgy of the Hours. Seven times a day, seven days a week they stop, take stock, and return themselves to leaving time.

The 3rd and 6th and 9th hours of the day are 9 a.m., noon and 3 p.m. Pick just one of these and try to slip from time for a moment. Picture invisible voices rising all around you — timeless and essential. It’s noon — somewhere people are praying — let yourself hear a metal clasp hit the tetherball pole and sound its note across the playground. Allow yourself to breathe. The power of it.

Natalie Costanza-Chavez is a freelance writer living in Fort Collins. For an archive of her columns, visit

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