“The Trade-In’s” is an episode of The Twilight Zone that originally aired on April 13, 1962. You can watch the episode here.
“The Trade-Ins” is a wistful and sentimental episode about an elderly couple —John and Marie Holt—living in the future. The couple goes to a corporation that specializes in “body swapping.” “Body swapping” refers to when one person exchanges their body for another’s body, typically an old couple seeking a youthful body.
John and Marie are presented with various youthful models and they are overcome with a sense of giddy, ebullient excitement when they consider the possibility of living their lives over again.
Unfortunately, they find out they do not have enough money for both of them. The operations require $5,000 apiece, when they only have $5,000 between them. In a desperate attempt, John goes to a poker game where he bets all of his $5,000. The sympathetic poker dealer asks why John is betting all his money and John tells him that he seeking a better life for he and his wife. After the dealer finds he has the better hand than John, the dealer folds and lets the man keep his money.
John goes back to the corporation with the idea he will swap his body and use his new body to work hard to save up to get his wife the swap. He gets the swap and is deliriously happy with his re-found youth.
Marie is happy until she realizes that she might die before he acquires the necessary funds and that—most importantly—there now exists an impossible chasm to bridge betwixt the two. Realizing this, he sagely decides to find peace in life in his original body.
With this backdrop, the old man and his wife walk into an uncertain future, held together by their love and devotion for each other.
Here is Rod Serlings’ final narration:
From Kahil Gibran’s The Prophet: ‘Love gives not but itself and takes not from itself, love possesses not nor would it be possessed, for love is sufficient unto love.’ Not a lesson, just a reminder, for all the sentimentalists in the Twilight Zone.
This episode is a sentimental venture into what many men ponder in their life: what would it be like to recover youth lost? This question inevitably plagues the minds of many men—especially as they grow older and they realize that the once open book of their life has slowly but surely become an increasingly rigid narrative with more written than is to be written.
The desire to chase proverbial fountains of youth is nothing new. Greek writer Herodotus spoke of fountains of youth, as have many writers in countless other cultures. Spanish explorer, Ponce de Leon, came to the America to find a fabled fountain of youth. There is nothing new under the sun and the desire to find a path back into one’s past and reclaim the glory of youth is a universal impulse.
However, the desire often comes at a steep price for those who indulge it. Much like the proverbial Narcissus, the desire to relive or reclaim youth becomes an obsession that operates at the expense of real life. Narcissus stared into the pond, stirring at the water, dreaming of the possibilities his reflection could be. His body wasted away over the years as Narcissus only dreamed of what could be.
While nobody truly can waste their life staring at their reflection in a pool of water, they can waste so much of their life fretting over what could of been instead of leaving the past in the past and worrying about the future without actively bettering it. The nervous energy expended here operates at the expense at reality and can only result in depression and unhappiness.
The desire to reclaim youth often betrays a man who hasn’t lived his life as he desired. A man only gets one shot at life, one chance to roll the dice and let the chips fall where they may. When a man lives by circumstance or fancy, he exposes himself to the merciless allure of chasing his own youth endlessly. When life isn’t lived with deliberate purpose and love, a man sets himself up for restless unhappiness and racking discontentment.
Take John in this episode. He is an elderly man who has a loving wife and presumably has had a degree of success in life. Despite this, he felt the burning itch—along with his wife—to flip the pages of his life back to the beginning.
Walking amongst the displays, his spirit was buoyed and inspired by the ripe energy and blooming vigor of the youthful models. His mind and spirit was temporarily transported back to when the world seemed limitless and the dreams of today were the promises of tomorrow.
Of course, such callow aspirations are the province the young. As John has indubitably learned in his long life, the world is no man’s oyster and dreams often wash up—tattered and torn—on the indifferent coasts of reality. However, there still burned a fierce ember in his soul that hadn’t truly conceded to this realization. With his hand firmly in his wife’s hand, he broached the possibility of one more shot at youth and all that it entails—a shot at glory, fame, wealth and love.
Having not accumulated the necessary wealth to reverse both and him and his wife simultaneously, John decides to transform himself and earn the funds necessary to whisk his wife back in time with him. Marie reacts poorly upon seeing his new form. His wife’s horror at his transformation could be borne out of a couple reasons: he is no longer the man she fell in love with or her realization that they are transgressing the nature of the circle of life.
Regardless, John realizes that the arc of life has already brought him through youth, middle-age and into the quiet beauty of old age. He returns to his wrinkled, aged body and finds his rightful side beside his equally wrinkled and aged wife. While they walk away into an uncertain future, they go with the sure-footedness that only come from love and a life lived with purpose.
What John presumably learned about life can be distilled down into a simple rule: One must use the time he has while he has it. Time is the world’s most awesome resource purely because it cannot be added, subtracted, multiplied nor divided. It indifferently marches on, without regard to any man. It passes on of its own accord, much like the current in a flowing stream.
John realized that he had lived his life as he wanted. He put in his years at a job, presumably raised a family and—most importantly—had found and stayed with the love of his life. When he beholds her terror at seeing his new, youthful body, he realizes that he was betraying one of the most important and life-affirming aspects of his life: the love of his wife. He had lived his life and it was time to let the circle of life run its course.
While this progression of life might not be for every man, a man must find what works for him. In order to feel a sense of accomplishment, contentment and personal gratitude, he must find what fits in life. By definition, this is an intensely personal inquiry that often is revisited and revised over the arc of a life.
However, when time is managed with deft precision and care, one can truly find happiness and contentment in this fleeting wisp of life. The mindfulness that springs from appreciating the ephemeral nature of time is a valuable tool. Indeed, it acts as a ward against the tempestuous and illicit allure of nostalgia and the chasing of youth vanished.
Read More: America’s Culture Of Narcissism