The other day, as I was walking through a side street in one of our large cities, I heard these words ringing out from a room so crowded with people that I could but just see the auctioneer’s face and uplifted hammer above the heads of the crowd.
“Going! Going! Going! Gone!” and down came the hammer with a sharp rap.
I do not know how or why it was, but the words struck me with a new force and significance. I had heard them hundreds of times before, with only a sense of amusement. This time they sounded solemn.
“Going! Going! Gone!”
“That is the way it is with life,” I said to myself; - “with time.” This world is a sort of auction-room; we do not know that we are buyers: we are, in fact, more like beggars; we have brought no money to exchange for precious minutes, hours, days, or years; they are given to us. There is no calling out of terms, no noisy auctioneer, no hammer; but nevertheless, the time is “going! going! gone!”
The more I thought of it, the more solemn did the words sound, and the more did they seem to me a good motto to remind one of the value of time.
When we are young we think old people are preaching and prosing when they say so much about it, - when they declare so often that days, weeks, even years, are short. I can remember when a holiday, a whole day long, appeared to me an almost inexhaustible play-spell; when one afternoon, even, seemed an endless round of pleasure, and the week that was to come seemed longer than does a whole year now.
One needs to live many years before one learns how little time there is in a year, - how little, indeed, there will be even in the longest possible life,-how many things one will still be obliged to leave undone.
But there is one thing, boys and girls, that you can realize if you will try - if you will stop and think about it a little; and that is, how fast and how steadily the present time is slipping away. However long life may seem to you as you look forward to the whole of it, the present hour has only sixty minutes, and minute by minute, second by second, it is “going! going! gone!” If you gather nothing from it as it passes, it is “gone” forever. Nothing is so utterly, hopelessly lost as “lost time.” It makes me unhappy when I look back and see how much time I have wasted; how much I might have learned and done if I had but understood how short is the longest hour.
All the men and women who have made the world better, happier or wiser for their having lived in it, have done so by working diligently and persistently. Yet, I am certain that not even one of these, when “looking backward from his manhood’s prime, saw not the specter of his mis-spent time.” Now, don’t suppose I am so foolish as to think that all the preaching in the world can make anything look to young eyes as it looks to old eyes; not a bit of it.
But think about it a little; don’t let time slip away by the minute, hour, day, without getting something out of it! Look at the clock now and then, and listen to the pendulum, saying of every minute, as it flies, - “Going! going! gone!”
by Helen Hunt Jackson: “Bits of Talk, In Verse and Prose, For Young Folks” (1876)
Helen Hunt Jackson was born as Helen Maria Fiske on 15 October 1830 in Amherst, Massachusetts, United States of America. She became a writer and a poet. Helen Hunt Jackson passed on at 54 years of age on 12 August 1885 in San Francisco, California, United States of America.