Seneca on Time

S

Name anyone to me who puts a price on time, who values the day, who understands that he is dying each and every day. For we deceive ourselves by looking for death ahead of us, whereas a great part of death has already taken place. Whatever part of life is behind us is possessed by death. So, dear Lucilius, do what you say you are doing and embrace every hour; in this way you will have to depend less on tomorrow if you seize hold of today. While life is being postponed, it rushes past.

Everything else is beyond our grasp, only time is ours. Nature produced us to claim ownership only of this one fleeting and slippery property, from which anyone who chooses may dispossess us. And men’s stupidity is so great that they allow the most trivial cheap objects, ones easy to replace, to be charged against their credit once they have obtained them. But no one thinks he owes anything when he has received a gift of time. And yet this is the only thing that even a grateful person cannot return. You may wonder how I myself am dealing with this, since I am making these recommendations to you.

I will confess honestly that the sum of my expenses is accounted for, as happens to anyone indulgent but careful. I cannot say I am not making any losses, but I can say what I am losing and why and how.

I will be able to explain the reasons for my poverty. But the same thing has happened to me as to most people reduced to lack of resources through no fault of their own: everyone pardons me but no one comes to my aid. So what should we say? I don’t think of anyone as poor if he finds whatever little is left over is enough. But I prefer that you should keep your own resources safe, and you will be starting at a good time. For, as our ancestors realized, ‘thrift comes too late at the bottom of the barrel’, for what is left at the bottom is not only miserably little but miserably poor in quality. Keep well.

From Seneca’s Letter on Time

By MB

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