The Book of Ecclesiastes* tells us that ‘There is an appointed time for everything…’ (Ecclesiastes 3:1), but it does not explicitly tell us about first times. It is implied, I suppose, because logic tells us that everything that happens must happen for a first time. Philosophically, this viewpoint is positive while the other side of the same coin, which says there is nothing new under the sun is negative or cynical. Negativism doesn’t necessarily contradict the thought there there is a first time for everything, but it certainly takes away the fun and adventure in the experience of first times for all of us. I’m not looking to be philosophical, but particularly personal. The fact is that we all have first times in life.
Just think of your first times and the list will be endless. For me there is the first time I took an intentional step or blew out a birthday candle. There is the first time I was able to ride a bike, drive a car and ice skate. There are also first times in which I didn’t have to do anything when, for example, the first time I became an uncle and a great uncle.
First times expose us to all of our senses. There is the the first time I saw a skyscraper; smelled jet fuel; tasted a brandy; heard a symphony and felt a dead body. First times tend to be memorable moments not so much in detail but in general recollection. I distinctly remember smelling jet fuel at Montreal’s Dorval Airport (since 2004 Montreal-Trudeau Airport). The circumstances? It was ‘a dark and stormy night’ and someone must have opened a gate door and fumes were pulled into the air system or the windows of the terminal were leaking. Details are not exactly pertinent, but I do remember the time and the place and what jet fuel smells like! Why should this first time remain in my head?
Sometimes, we find it odd if not funny, that someone experiences his or her first time years after we had the same first time experience. This is the wonderment of first times. They simply keep happening, but they are not scheduled for any particular age group. No one should be able to say, “At your age, I’m surprised you haven’t already been on a flight.” Just because that first time was many years ago, there are plenty of reasons why a 65 year old man may have never flown.
There are, however, social norms wherein first times pretty much apply to everyone. Generally speaking, most babies take their first steps around the time of their first birthday. By the time we are 20 years old, we will have most likely experienced the death of a beloved pet or, on the other end of the emotions spectrum, felt a physical attraction. We also like to share word of our first times and we especially like watching someone experience a first time.
The exuberance of riding a bike for the first time is shared by the person who ran along side of us and gently let go while we felt a sense of balance and control. Even if you have been to Reykjavik a hundred times, it is always interesting to see someone’s reaction to seeing this city for the first time. As is said, there is a first time for everyone. Sometimes we just have to share it. Maybe this is what makes Facebook so popular! I remember the first time I was in Nice, France. I loved it. Everything was beautiful! I called a friend in Paris and told her that Nice was fantastic and why do people still live in Paris. She quickly responded, “Everybody says that!” She was on to something about first times, their invigoration can quickly fade. Hence, that horrible expression, “Been there, done that.”
There is a phenomenon attached to first time experiences and it is called appreciation. Sometimes our first times don’t make much of an impression and for whatever reason. Frankly, this is how I live most of my first times, non-appreciatively. I take the first time experience in, but it takes me a long time to process it and thereby really appreciate it. This phenomenon can come up when we experience something again, and for any reason, it seems like the first time. Our appreciation level is tripled and a second time experience is a first time experience.
The Book of Ecclesiastes hints at this in its closing line, which is about judgment. “…because God will bring to judgment every work, with all of its hidden qualities, whether good or bad” (Ecclesiastes 12:14b). Repeated experiences that feel like a first time, is application of a discerning judgment that we all bring to experiences. All experiences have hidden qualities and sometimes we just don’t appreciate them the first time around. So, let the first times be repeated and let us not be so cynical or jaded. There is a first time for everything and for everyone. There is always something new under the sun.
*”The book’s honest and blunt appraisal of the human condition provides a healthy corrective to the occasionally excessive self-assurance of other wisdom writers. Its radical skepticism is somewhat tempered by the resigned conclusions to rejoice in whatever gifts God may give (2:24; 3:12-13, 22; 5:17-18; 8:15; 9:7-9; 11:9)” (Didache Bible [Revised edition of the New American Bible, 2015.]