Placing a monetary value on a human life is, at least, unsavory; by apparent contrast, we have little difficulty pricing time, even– perhaps especially– our own. People spend much of their time at work, which they do in exchange for monetary compensation, often in the form of an hourly wage. Some, like lawyers, accountants, and consultants, even sell their time directly to their customers in the form of billable hours.
Maybe pricing our time is a mental shortcut humans take to hurdle the sticky undertaking of placing a value on a full life. The latter incorporates an element of finality: the life is over, or at least contemplated as a completed product, matters accomplished weighed against those uncompleted, the relative wisdom of roads taken balanced against those avoided or undiscovered, without any further recourse or appeal.
Adults stereotypically chide youths for their projected or enacted attitudes of invincibility, but even if grownups are more likely to acknowledge their own mortality, most everyone seems to treat time as a far less finite resource.
“There’s always tomorrow,” except when there isn’t. And when someone runs out of tomorrows, it can seem like a sudden occurrence. Sometimes the realization that time is the currency of life arrives with arresting, even crushing force.
A baseball writer recently wrote an article about the death of his young son, a child who had been sick all of his short life. A selection therefrom:
Perhaps stuck in the bargaining phase of grief, I kept thinking about how many games (indeed, how many Cubs wins, even) I would trade for even one more chance to toss my phone aside, load Emerson into his wagon, and go to the park to swing. As anyone who has grieved a painful loss can tell you, irrational anger sometimes creeps in, and for me, that has taken the form of blaming baseball for stealing my son from me, for taking my attention away from him too often over the last few years, for distracting me as I cared for him over the last few weeks, even.
Baseball mostly steals from us, steals our money (tons of our money), steals our time, steals the passion and intellectual energy we ought to put toward more important things.
How we spend our lives is how we spend our time. A life well lived is composed of time well spent. To regard every moment as a vanishing grain of finality is an approach too paralyzing to be sustainable for any stretch. Time, like other, less cosmic currencies, can and often should be invested– in the mundane, in the unenjoyable, in the unproductive, in the lonely. To burden every moment with the conscious knowledge of unalterable consequence is too much. Still, to better prepare to receive that last, ultimate punch of total realization, it may be wise to moderate our day-to-day approaches by incorporating a greater respect for the real value of time, both ours and others’.