It’s fascinating, really, the concept of time — the fundamental but incredibly complex construct we rely on for many aspects of our lives.
We live by it, counting seconds, minutes, and hours. Measuring days, weeks, and years. Waking to alarms and setting timers. We go to work, take trains, catch planes, attend meetings, and talk timelines and deadlines. We schedule haircuts, meet for dinners, go to games, and get our tires rotated at duly appointed hours.
We track, respect, and synchronize time with others, yet we rarely stop to think about this essential, ever-present element of our lives.
Our ancestors looked to celestial bodies — the sun, moon, planets, and stars — to understand and measure time’s passage, determining seasons, months, and years. The Babylonians and Egyptians created calendars to organize communal activities and coordinate planting and harvest cycles.
Through the centuries, scientists, philosophers, scholars, and poets have been intrigued by this vital yet abstract phenomenon, viewing it through a variety of lenses. Sir Isaac Newton, for instance, saw time as something like an arrow fired in a direct, straight line, never deviating from its path.
Albert Einstein, meanwhile, described it as relative, meaning that the rate at which time passes varies depending on the frame of reference. And Jorge Luis Borges wrote: “Time is the substance I am made of. Time is a river which sweeps me along but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me but I am the fire.”
Time is a most valuable resource, yet it easily slips through our fingers.
Today, we understand time in a variety of ways that help us contextualize life. Most of us are familiar with civil time, the national standard by which we set our clocks in a given time zone. A close cousin is universal time, which is based on Earth’s rotation.
Geologic time is a view of time based on Earth’s rock records. Historical time marks the periods and events throughout human history: the Bronze Age, the Persian Empire, the Renaissance, and the Great Depression, for instance.
Psychological time is how we relate to time. A subjective, emotional experience, it helps explain why, for kids in school, an hour seems like an eternity. And why, as we get older, time seems to pick up speed; in what feels like no time, we wish it would slow back down.
The ancient Greeks had two words for time. Chronos, like civil time, measures quantitatively through clocks and calendars — that steady progression from morning to afternoon that drifts into evening, and ultimately transitions to a new day.
The other word, kairos, offers another perspective — the idea of the right time, or a ripe moment full of promise or opportunity. It’s qualitative in nature and about tuning in to the context of a given situation, then acting or speaking accordingly.
Time motivates, inspires, and organizes us. It is celebrated in countless works of art, songs, and stories.
The concept measures our value and quantifies productivity. It affects who we are, how we think, and what choices we make.
It can intimidate us and race against us — or take our side and be our friend.
This precious commodity is limited for everyone — it doesn’t matter who we are. It doesn’t slow down for the hurried, expand for the busy, or speed up for the worried.
Time is a most valuable resource, yet it easily slips through our fingers; for some reason, though, we often act as if we have an inexhaustible supply.
But this precious commodity is limited for everyone — it doesn’t matter who we are. It doesn’t slow down for the hurried, expand for the busy, or speed up for the worried.
So while time is vast and complicated, there are a few things about it that we know for sure.
Everything and everyone comes into and out of existence inside of time. It doesn’t stop for us; it’s constantly moving forward.
Time passes swiftly and can play tricks on us. How can it seem like one day you’re a child, and the next that years have passed and you have children of your own?
No one knows how much time they have. With this variable lifespan comes a great opportunity: to seize each moment.
It’s up to each of us to recognize and appreciate the time we have — and to make the most of it. Because though time itself is infinite, we are finite and every single second, minute, and hour we have is precious.