Contrary to popular belief, time bears no resemblance to money whatsoever. People say time is money, but it’s not. You can’t earn time or save it. You can’t beg, borrow or steal it. It cannot be given or received. You can only spend time—invest it, wisely or unwisely—but it never pays you back in kind. That’s why time is always in such short supply, even though demand is always so high. And that’s why money is such poor compensation for all the time we lose in making it. Like wealth, time can be wasted, dissipated, frittered away. But while fortunes can be rebuilt in a day, no amount of diligence, savvy or hard work can ever restore even a moment of lost time. Nor does its value ever fluctuate; nothing is more commonplace—everyone has time—yet nothing is more precious. “Time isn’t measured by length but by depth,” German poet Isolde Kurz wrote. And time doesn’t tarry long on the surface; its richest deposits are found only in the deepest pockets.

This abbreviated essay originally appeared in the December issue of Ode, on newsstands now.