I responded to an interesting ad today. I saw it in the paper, right there next to all of the other usual things being advertised. It was only four words. “We return lost time.” Underneath this there was contact information. I read it again. What did that mean? Unable to resist, I got my things and went to the address advertised.
I arrived at a curious old building, the sort of building that used to be elegant before time and dust wore it away. I walked into the lobby, and looked around with interest. It was decorated in wood paneling, with dusty chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. A carved statue of a goddess decorated the base of a staircase. The goddess held a porcelain vase containing a plant, its leaves turning brown from lack of watering. A woman dressed in a dark skirt and jacket hurried over, waving. “Hello!” She smiled. “You’re responding to the ad?” She asked before I could speak. I stared at her, embarrassed to admit that I was. I nodded. “Well let’s not lose any more time then! Come right this way please.” She turned around and motioned for me to follow her.
“Ok.” I responded, following slowly behind her.
We walked through an ornate doorway and entered a hallway. I looked around, growing nervous. What was this place? After a minute of walking we finally stopped in front of a closed door. She knocked and then stepped back. A voice murmured from inside and she opened the door and stuck her head in. “I have a young lady responding to your ad, Hieronymus.” She turned and smiled at me. “He’ll see you now.” I nodded at her and walked hesitantly through the door and into the room.
The first thing that struck me as soon as I entered was how small the room was. I had been expecting something grand to match with the rest of the building, but the room was nothing but a small, dingy office. The next thing that struck me was the strange man standing in the center of the room. He was tall and slender, and dressed in a very old-fashioned pinstriped suit. He had a long, pointed face, and his pale hair was combed neatly. He nodded at me as I entered the room. “Hello.” He said. “Welcome.”
“Hi.” I responded awkwardly. “Umm.” I spoke, allowing the nervousness to spill out. “I’m really just here because I’m curious. I think this returning time business, it sounds a little strange and probably dangerous so…” I trailed off.
The man inclined his head. “I understand. First, let me introduce myself. My name is Hieronymus. But the name is a bit long. You can call me H.”
“Ok. H. So what do you offer? What is this all about?”
“Well it’s quite simple, really.” He smiled. “Have you ever felt, that you’ve wasted your time?”
I laughed. “Umm. Yes. Doesn’t everyone?”
His eyes lit up. “Well yes of course! And that’s why we’re here.” He stepped aside and motioned to a beautiful clock hanging from the wall behind him. The clock’s gears whirred as the second hand whizzed around the face. I blinked my eyes several times. The second hand slowed down. He smiled. “I am what is known as a time merchant.” His eyes widened. ” It is my job to re-purpose time. All of the time you feel you’ve lost throughout your life, I can give it back to you. Imagine.” He waved his hands in front of his face. “All the time you wasted with people you don’t like, hours in boring lectures or watching a pointless movie. It’s all yours again!” His smile spread. “Imagine if you could use all of that time again productively! What a difference that would make to your life.” I paused to think for a second, amazed. If I could take all of the time I had wasted in my life and dedicated it to writing instead, I felt I could write a library worth of pages. It was an incredible prospect.
“So what’s the catch?” I asked. “What do you expect in return?”
He laughed. “Nothing.”
I looked at him incredulously. “Nothing? Somehow I don’t believe that.”
He smiled again. “Well, there is one little thing. It’s fairly insignificant though.”
I frowned at him. “What?”
“Well.” He tapped his fingers together as he spoke. “You see, the time return process is more like a recycling process than a new purchase. We have to get the time from somewhere. So we launder it and give it back to you.”
“Launder it? Like you wash it?” I asked.
“It’s quite simple really.” He shrugged. “The experiences you’ve collected during that wasted time, the things you’ve learned…well you see, those things are all lost. But!” He raised a hand. “It shouldn’t matter. What would you need from that wasted time anyway?” He shook his head. “Think about it. Did you really learn anything worth keeping during those squandered years? Isn’t the new time worth that little bit of measly knowledge? We’ll happily take it from you and you won’t miss it one bit.”
He motioned to the chair directly across from him. I took a seat, thinking hard. We stared at one another for a moment, and then I began to talk. I told him about the years of my life I’ve wasted worrying. Just sheer, pure, unmitigated worry about nothing. Like a rocking chair, always busy, never progressing. I told him about my failed attempts at so many things, about the time I would love to have back. People and situations I would love to have the time back from. If only I knew then what I know now. If only I could try again. It would be different this time, wouldn’t it?
He listened the whole time, nodding. Several times he commented, telling me how much better it would be this time. How this time, I would be so much more prepared to do things differently. How I would be proud of myself, this time.
After what felt like hours, I finally stood. I stared at him. And I thought. I thought about what more time could do for me. In my daily life it feels like I never have enough of it. How many more things could I accomplish if I just had more time? I thought about the embarrassments I had suffered throughout my life, the times I had failed. About the chance to redo it all. I also thought about giving up years of hard-earned experience. About having to re-learn painful lessons. About giving up who I am now. The person that for better or worse, had been shaped by those less than stellar years. Was that really worth it? I wasn’t sure.
“Well?” He broke through my thoughts, his eyes insistent. “Are you ready? Surely you can’t turn a deal like this down?”
I finally shook my head. “Thank you so much for your time, H. But I’m afraid I can’t take your deal.”
Before he could respond, I turned around. I heard his voice following me as I headed for home. “If you ever change your mind. You know where to find us.”
That night I reflected on what H the time merchant said. Time. It’s a gift, and when we feel we’ve squandered it, it hurts. There are years I wish I could have back, years I spent with people and in situations I don’t feel were positive or productive. Days when I spent my time wishing for something else, and willing that precious time away. If only I had used it for something else. Imagine the things I could have accomplished, and the places I could be now. Yes, imagine. It could be any sort of outcome, really.
But if you were to get the time back, what would you give up in its place? Experience, for one. All of the things that have led you to where you are, have shaped you into the person you have become. The person that you are now, is the right person for where you are, right now. I don’t want to risk losing that. Because the person I am now is the one that is going to take me where I want to go. And there is nothing worth giving that up.