…just shadows that move across the wall.

It’s a funny thing, time.

I remember in eighth grade my classmates and I were required to take a survey of our peers. The questions could be anything we chose, and one boy thought to ask:

“Do you think time is real or made up?”

Now I was not the most creative, out-of-the-box thinker at that rather unfortunate age of 12, and this query kind of blew my mind: I’d never thought to question such a basic truth. Of course it’s real…

…right?

I mean, how could it not be? Our entire society is based on time. School years and careers and lives and relationships. People get paid for hours worked, not just showing up and hanging around for a bit.

Like I said, it threw my tween self for quite the little loop. In a good way though.

These days, as an adult who is slightly savvier, significantly more skeptical, and marginally more intelligent than the pre-teen me, I still find myself hemming and hawing on the matter (depending in no small part on just how abstract and philosophical I’m feeling at the pondersome moment).

Considering the notion that time doesn’t exist is a little like recognizing money is a completely manufactured system of measurement with no basis in the world beyond what us humans have decided is true. The alternate reality is certainly interesting to think about, but such a departure from the fundamental construction of how we’ve set up society that in my more cynical moments I wonder whether there aren’t more valuable topics to spend brainpower on.

And yet that odd little memory remains vivid, and here I am, over a decade later, returning to it yet again.

And time remains a curious thing.

It ebbs and flows and flies and slows; our bodies grow, and ultimately shrink and fade away. The ‘me’ of today (whatever that means) is not the same ‘me’ who years ago was flabbergasted at her classmate’s consideration of a timeless reality existing in place of our own.

Time is limited, yet expansive. And I am quite certain each of us has moments when we are absolutely overwhelmed by the soul-crushing, spirit-liberating truth of those simple sentiments.

Most of the time that pure sense of recognition fades into the background of our awareness though… our little brains don’t have the capacity to continually grasp such big thoughts in our moment-to-moment existence.

So we focus on the 15-minute commute to work or pride ourselves on always being available to answer the phone when it rings, on catching every tweet or sweet new viral video or whatever else flutters into our sphere of awareness — the low-hanging fruit that lives and dies about as quickly as the news cycle these days. But we lose the rather counterintuitive urgency of the longer span: a legacy, making our ‘mark,’ accomplishing something truly significant that we care deeply about and are fulfilled by.

The sort of Big Stuff that doesn’t feel related to the present moment in any way, shape, or form, but simply never happens if we don’t figure out how to bridge that gap and nurture such a relationship.

Lots of people don’t ever figure it out and never come particularly close. A few are lucky enough or strong-willed enough or smart enough or full enough of that elusive ‘x-factor’ to somehow just more or less innately understand it.

Many have moments of clarity, brought about by a near-death experience or some big life-changing event or just a random clouds-parting-light-shining-angels-singing sort of a moment while sitting at their desk at work on a Thursday afternoon.

These are the moments when you understand just how significant your life could be. When you realize how much you want to do, and feel as though you really could do it. When you know the ability and will to do so is right there in your gut, just waiting to be exercised.

But then how horrifyingly easy it is to dismiss the significance of these moments mere moments later. To “come to our senses” and go back to life as it’s always been. To never act on the long-term urgency.

I imagine it’s a defense mechanism, kicking in to protect us from overexertion (or just plain exertion), disappointment, or having to accept our own limitations; from having to consider whether we’ve fiddled away too much time already and think about the ever-imposing shadowy presence of the Grim Reaper and our own mortality.

But what if we were able to hang on to the elusive moments of clarity? What if we didn’t dismiss them — if we used them to re-chart (or just plain chart) our course? How would it change the game each of us are playing?

I’m struggling with those answers myself right now, in a pretty significant way. Ultimately I’m fairly certain the more important question isn’t “What if?” but “How?”

And that one… well, it requires some more cogitation on the part of my little mind as it tries to ponder Big Things.