Ask a man who is dying what is precious, and he will tell you "time."
A city such as Paris or Buenos Aires doesn't seem any nearer death than, say, Detroit or Atlanta. So how come those who live there respect the hour, the month, the year -- the way we love a luxury car?
In France and Argentina (to use just two examples) the middle of the workday is elongated in interesting lunches. Evenings are full, dinner is late, and there is always time for a talk.
Our day, the day of Detroit, San Diego, Boston -- you pick it -- contains almost no leisure spaces at all.
There's the drive -- as everyone knows -- the desk, the packaged sandwich, the picking up of kids, the dash to the store, the plopping down to doze in front of images on a screen.
Our hours are arranged not to be lived, but to be gotten through. We slice them at the neck -- a sacrifice for something we may want to buy.
They're not for walking or for wine. They're not for sunsets or for stars. They're not for listening to birds in parks.
Our hours are for objects, and we accept this truth right down to our bones.
We sacrifice time for things that are new, like 'body wash' or Oreos that are double-stuffed. We already own soap, we've got a kitchen of cookies, but we get these too.
We sacrifice for luxury; a leather-upholstered car that costs us our vacation and sets us back a half-year's pay.
People in Paris, in Buenos Aires, see this. They check their calendars. They nervously wind their clocks.
We are the best in the world, we tell them, at buying, and at working, and it makes us strong. We will enjoy days later. We have plenty to spare.
Our bodies, our belongings, may be fat, but our economy jiggles as it jogs along.
The man from Argentina, the woman from Paris, do not feel immortal. You are running out of days, they say. Give up your job. Travel the world. And do it now.
This is crazy talk. We can't afford to listen. Look at the bed these lazy countries lie in. Unemployment, poor productivity -- look at the stats.
A job is a job, says the man from Buenos Aires. Will you remember work when you are old?
Sell everything, says Argentina. Fly to our country for dinner. Enjoy the finest wine.
Give up your jewelry, argues Paris, except for your Rolex. Wind it. Check it. Look at it now.
"Work, spend, keep, collect," we say.
Walk, eat, travel, read.
Who will win the argument?
We may never know. The sunset is coming fast now. Birds are singing. It is almost time for stars.
We may never know. We are running out of days.
For more by Peter Mandel, click here.
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Peter Mandel is an author of picture books for kids, including his read-aloud bestseller: Jackhammer Sam (Macmillan/Roaring Brook), and his newest about zoo animals passing on a very noisy sneeze: Zoo Ah-Choooo (Holiday House).