Time and Money

July 29, 2011 § 6 Comments


This picture is from early this summer, back when it seemed as if the cold and rain would never relent.

As a writer, I’m loathe to believe that any picture is worth 1,000 words. A hundred or two, maybe. But 1,000? Give me a break. Still, like most pictures, there’s a story to this one. And to me, that story is time.

First, look at me (the guy in the center, if you couldn’t tell). There’s something about my posture that makes me look old and hunched. Part of it is probably the way my pants are hanging off my bony ass; the other part might be the slight stoop in my shoulders. Against this, the youth gathered around me. To me, this photo is a reminder that life is a temporal game and that the shadow of mortality is never a distant companion.

And then there’s the backstory, which is rather simple and all-too-common. On the morning this picture was taken, I was feeling pressed for time. I’d rushed through chores, rushed through breakfast, and was preparing to rush to my office, where I’d rush through work, so that I might rush through chores again, and then dinner. And so on. Hell, I probably would’ve ended up rushing through sleep. But the boys really wanted to go exploring in the woods. This is something they want with great frequency and varying degrees of urgency, and on this morning my habit of refusing seemed particularly acute. So I relented, and we walked into the woods, where we spent the next hour or so prowling through the forest understory. Mostly, we looked for things to eat, but we also worked on our tree identification skills. We probably had a stick battle of sorts, but I’m not sure. That might have been on another walk. In any case, I returned from our foray in far more relaxed state of mind and body than when I embarked upon it, and that sense of relaxation stayed with me for the remainder of the day.

I have come to believe that one of the most damaging lies our culture tells itself is that “time is money.” That so many of us accept this as truth is immensely convenient for the industries supplying the under-priced crap filling our lives. If time is money, what is the value of an hour-long walk in the woods with my sons? If time is money, what is the value of a carefully tended garden, or the hats that Penny knit and which are perched on Rye’s head and mine? Are these things worth no more than whatever hourly wage rate we assign ourselves?

Money, as I am coming to learn, is merely an illusion. It is not value; it’s a symbol of value, and even it’s symbolic value is an artifice of our collective faith. In other words, money’s only real value is that we all agree it has value.

But time? Time is everything. In essence, time is life. It is limited for us all, a truth made sharper by the fact that none of us know how limited it will prove to be.

The other truth is this: It’s not just that “time is money” is a lie. Because when you really unpack it, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that money itself is a lie. And that your time is worth whatever you decide.



§ 6 Responses to Time and Money

  • Zoe says:

    So true. I am sharply aware of these things – time and money, and their balance or imbalance – at this time of year… My paying work is the busiest, my home garden is overflowing with produce that needs to be put up, and the woods are calling with a bounty of forage-ables! Slowing down and soaking up the season is more important than all the rest. So – thanks for the reminder to take a moment. I think I will.

  • Gretchen says:

    YES! Feeling this intensely as both my husband and I are looking for work. How much time do we spend searching, networking, sending emails, etc. versus just being present in the moment with the kids and doing what we can with what we have right now! Thanks.

  • Jessie says:

    I work that so one day I may have more time. I try to keep in sight what I really want, which is to be free.

  • Ben Hewitt says:

    Jessie makes a great point, which is that these metrics of value are not absolute. Or, at least, not always realistic in the context of our broader societal/cultural/economic arrangements. In other words, most of us do not have the luxury of living outside the monetary system, no matter how symbolic and artificial it may be.

    It’s a game of compromises that I play almost every day. For me, I think, the key is to maintain the state of awareness that time is NOT money. It helps keep me in balance.

  • sylvia says:

    We had a great discussion at dinner the other night about the phrase “the straw that broke the camel’s back”. Whether it was really true, what did it mean for each of us, can you identify when you are getting really close to that final straw.
    My 17 year old who is in the throes of college search, football, girls, and all the other stuff that comes with being a teen had the most profound answer.
    His point was that only in looking back can you tell if you truly had broken or if you had good balance. In the moment, it is really hard to know if you are putting enough time and attention to all the right parts. He decided that for him, he needed to video journal more so that he could have a real record of what he was thinking and feeling in his ‘moments’.
    I hope that your blog serves that purpose for you, Ben. As the mom of 15 and 17 year old boys, I can tell you those days of woodland exploration go by so very, very quickly. Treasure each one of those moments.

  • Victoria says:

    Amen. I actually value my time spent “not doing” even more than my time spent “doing something.”

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