I met a thief today. No arrest will be made. No court would ever convict her, but she stole nonetheless. Perhaps she didn’t intend to do it. She probably didn’t even know that she was stealing. Even so, I can’t help but hear Dragnet’s Joe Friday intoning almost sadly, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse, Ma’am.”
While waiting on a customer this morning, I was interrupted by the jangle of the telephone. Frequently, I ignore the phone when I’m by myself and busy with people, but I pulled away from the man, one of my regulars, to answer the call. The lady on the line wanted us to ship her some merchandise, so I started the order. We were on the homestretch, with me entering her address and contact information, when she abruptly told me to hold on. Just like that, she was gone.
There I sat, glued to the telephone, with no one on the other end, while the customer at the counter waited for me to get done and complete the transaction I had started with him. A minute–two minutes–possibly even three, passed and suddenly she was back. There was no apology; no explanation was forthcoming at all. As if she had never left the conversation, she gave me the information I needed and within a minute or so, we were done.
Wait a minute! I hear you say it already. She’s a thief? What did she steal?
Just one thing. Time.
Time is one of the few things in our lives of which there is actually a limited supply. We have a predetermined number of seconds, minutes, and hours to live. If you believe, as do I, that an all-knowing Creator has numbered your days before they were even begun, you begin to understand why I am jealous of those three minutes that my customer stole from me today. Indeed, she stole not only from me, but from my customer, as he stood and fidgeted at the checkout counter. That means that there are six minutes less in the flow of time, gone forever, never to be recouped.
“Time is of the essence.” “A day late and a dollar short.” “All in due time.” “In the nick of time.” Our language is full of sayings about time that make us realize that it is an essential commodity. Not one that should be bought and sold, but one which should be treasured and dispensed carefully and thoughtfully. Yet we are spendthrifts with the one thing which cannot ever be reclaimed, tossing it carelessly about as if it mattered not at all. We are even cavalier about spending it for others.
Just in case you think that I am being too hard on the lady from my phone call today, I should make a confession myself. I am also a thief of time. Again and again, I have wasted the time of people who were kind enough to stand and speak with me, long after they had any interest in the conversation, long after they had other activities to get to. And, still I droned on and on. Perhaps, I even am guilty of doing that here. At least you have the choice to click away from this post anytime, but if I fill this page with useless drivel (it could happen!), I have in a sense stolen that time away from you also.
I am not the kind of thief who sneaks around in the dark and jimmies the lock on your home. I don’t carry a pack on my back to fill with your treasures. No, I’m a pickpocket of sorts, lifting your most precious possession away from you right under your nose. I have stood in the doorways to friends’ homes long after they should be abed, forcing them to listen to the sound of my monotonous voice. Phone calls about nothing, arguments about even less–these are my common methods of larceny.
Tonight, my error has hit me with an almost painful impact. I thought to tell you of my displeasure with a customer who stole a measly three minutes of my time, but I realize that hers is merely a misdemeanor, while mine is grand theft. I repent. If I had sackcloth and ashes handy, I would make use of them.
Perhaps, you might also have something similar to confess. There does seem to be a fellowship of thieves which encompasses a huge number of us. Maybe it is time for all of us to reform and determine to change our unscrupulous ways. Just think of the minutes and hours which might be utilized to their fullest if we did stop stealing. Imagine the great good which could be accomplished in those fleeting moments, if we didn’t insist on pilfering them for our own trivial uses.
I’m ready to do my part, I think. I may find this change more difficult than controlling other appetites; may even learn that it is a futile undertaking. I will, nevertheless make the attempt.
My first act of contrition will be to close this particular discussion without delay.
It’s time to start redeeming the time!
“If you are a thief, quit stealing!”
“Many years without slumbering (tick-tock, tick-tock),
His life seconds numbering (tick-tock, tick-tock),
But it stopped–short, never to go again
When the old man died.”
(from “My Grandfather’s Clock”~Henry Clay Work~American Composer~1832-1884)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.
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