I can't buy more time
How much is one minute worth?
Last week was the end of my three-week visit to Thailand. On Thursday, I flew back to Ho Chi Minh City, the place I now call home. The flight was turbulent. Immigration was swift. Baggage claim… a disaster.
For an hour and a half, I stood waiting for the first bag to arrive on the belt. Yes, first. For an hour and a half, the belt was idle. One by one, my flight companions arrived after making it through immigration. By the time the belt started moving, the entire flight was there, and then some.1
Concerned that my hired driver would wonder about my lack of appearance, I messaged the car company. I’ve arrived, I said, just waiting for my luggage. I will be out as soon as I have my bag.
Don’t worry, the operator replied. Your driver is waiting for you at Column 9.
And sure enough, when I finally got my bag and exited the airport, there he was, patiently holding up a sign spelling out my name in capital letters. Counting from the time my flight landed, my driver would have been standing there for two and a half hours.
A luxury many can’t afford
As I sat there in the car listening to the smooth jazz my driver was playing, I looked out the window at the buildings whizzing by and thought how fortunate I was to have the luxury of time.
With my income, I’m able to buy time. Two and a half hours from my driver so I wouldn’t have to queue in the over-subscribed taxi line. Half an hour I didn’t need to spend at check-in thanks to the priority access my higher-class ticket grants. Sixteen hours I don’t have to waste teaching a disengaged, rule-flaunting student whose contract I was able to cancel (and reimburse) because I’m not relying on that income.
As I’ve grown in my professional career and been able to command more for my services, I’ve had the luxury of buying back time for myself. Time I can spend on my writing, my leisure, my family and friends, activities and causes I care about.
As I sat in that taxi, I thought about my driver. Two and a half hours of his life, gone, waiting for a passenger who just wouldn’t materialise. Two and a half hours where he couldn’t get food, go for a stroll, even visit the toilet. Because he had to be there when I arrived, whenever that would be.
At the end of the trip, as he maneuvered the car so I could step off it directly onto my building’s steps (it was raining and the road was flooded), I counted out the bills for the fare, plus a huge tip to compensate him for his time. No change needed, I waved my hand at him when he scrambled to give me change for the large note. He looked at me, perplexed. I shook my head and smiled.
Realisation dawned on his face and he smiled back. Then hurried out of the car to get my bag, which had cost him one and a half hour of his life. He carefully deposited it onto a dry step and drove off.
Time I can’t buy
These last few years, I’ve gotten used to being able to buy time. It’s a right to luxury I exercise often, and for which I’m eternally grateful.
But there’s time that I cannot buy. I cannot buy more time for my aging parents. I cannot buy more time for my partner. I cannot buy more time for my friends and loved ones.
Once that clock of life stops ticking, there is no more time. And the thing is, you never know when the clock is going to stop. I often think of unexpected, horrific car accidents that will take the life of my most beloved, maybe all at once. Maybe it’s a slip in the shower that kills the mind that I’ve come to love, leaving behind the shell of a human that would never again respond to a loving word, a smile, a touch. Maybe it’s one careless street crossing that takes away a limb or leaves the person bedridden for the rest of their lives. A turbulent flight that never lands.
I imagine these scenarios often in my mind. On that flight home, as we encountered turbulence after turbulence,2 I thought: What if this is the end? What if I never again get to see my partner, my family, my friends?
I’ve written before of the regret I feel from not spending the time I had with my grandparents well. Ever since the death of my grandfather, I’ve been determined not to make that mistake again. I’m fully present when I’m with my partner. I schedule calls with my parents in my calendar so I don’t forget. I reach out to my friends, scattered across continents and time zones, to ask how they are.
Because I never know which word, which smile, which wave goodbye is going to be the last.
What do you think?
Maybe you’re on the same page with me when it comes to time and what we can/can’t do with it. Maybe you vehemently disagree. Maybe you haven’t thought about time in this way before. Either way, I’d like to know:
Is time a luxury you buy?
How much would you pay to get one minute with a person you love? Send a reply, leave a comment, share this with someone you cherish spending time with.
Until next Friday… Stay thoughtful,
It took so long for the bags to start arriving that by the time they did, there was a second flight on the same belt.
It really wasn’t a great flight.