Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Thoughts: Lessons from a Clock

The clock in the picture belonged to my great grandparents, on the Drewry side. It’s a late 19th century gothic mantle clock. From there it was passed down to my grandmother Lassiter, then to my mother, and on my 50th birthday, it was given to me.

In all its homes, the clock’s simple Victorian mechanics clicked away, the reassuringly reliable click-click of the pendelum, the hourly deep gong of the chimes. Through my early childhood, when its ticking in the room below my bedroom lulled me to sleep at night, to my turbulent teen years, when it’s chimes told me regularly that I was up way too late, to my adulthood when the clock began to be, not just a timepiece, but a connection point to my family and it’s history.

I’m one of the lucky ones in that I remember well all of my grandparents, all of whom were alive into my thirties and forties, and some of my great grandparents. I have pictures of them in my house, and for me, they are not pictures of people not known, but of people I loved and love still, whose lives still touch me, here in my late fifties.

When I was given the clock, I lived in Troutville, Va. My life seemed settled, and the clock in a small way, was something of a symbol of that, but of course, life does not work that way. A few short years later and I was divorced, and my life and work came undone. I moved twice in a few short years there in Botetourt County, then making the decision to move to Vermont to be close to the woman I have come to love here in Vermont.

And the clock moved with me. Carefully packed and set up, Whether I moved myself, or had someone move my belongings, the clock rode in my car, carefully set upright and strapped in so that it’s delicate works and old glass would make the trip intact. And once settled in my new homes, it would be one of the first things set in place, it’s ticking and hourly gongs a taste of stablility in what seemed to me to be a suddenly unstable life.

It did not make the trip to Vermont well.

The clock didn’t seem to have been damaged. It looked fine, but after I set it in place in my study, would it carefully, it would run for a minute or two, and slowly stop. I looked at it (which is something of a laugh, since I know nothing about clocks, and only have an average mechanical sense), read about clocks of that era, but I could find nothing wrong. And unfortunately, at this point in life, I had other priorities for any spare money I might have.

So I left it in place, silent. I told myself that it didn’t matter that much, that what was important was it’s legacy, the fact that it was a connection point. And to some extent, that was true. But still, it nagged at me, and from time to time I would return to it, trying to figure out what was wrong, how I might fix it. Again and again in the nearly three years I have been here, I would stand there, door open on the clock, tracing it’s mechanics, thinking, always failing to fanthom it’s mystery.

Last night, I was looking at it again, and it came to me. Perhaps it was not the clock. Old clocks are a magical mix of mechanics, gravity and physics. They need to be level, both side to side, and front to back.

The clock looked level, as did the piece of furniture it was on, but, I suddenly realized, I live in an old house, built in 1800. NOTHING is level in an old house. Visually it might look that way, because everything might be tilted the same way.

I went back to the project room (my version of a workshop, since my tiny snapshot of a lot has no room for a real workshop), and found my level. I put it on the kitchen counter. it was level. I move the clock to the counter, started the pendelum, and it clicked, as long and steadily as if it’s work had never been interrupted.

Five minutes with the piece of furniture and the level and everything was plumb and right. The clock was back in place, and now, 12 hours later, it continues to echo through the house.

Like so many things we lose in life, often we don’t fully realize how much we miss something or someone, until we have them back. I miss my friends in Roanoke and other places less when I am here, than when I am back with them, enjoying their company and their goodness and the joy of their presence. The same was true of my clock. Last night, as it began to tick happily away, the law of physics making all right with it’s world, I felt a return to mourning, just for a while, about what I had missed in the years before I finally discovered what was wrong.

And I was reminded of a few life lessons along the way.

First, that persistence pays. If I had not kept at it, returning to it again and again, it would have been a museum piece, instead of the living reminder (and timepiece, Rona is always telling me I don’t have enough clocks in the house.) that it once again is.

Second, that often things that seem hard, really aren’t. It was embarassingly easy to fix the clock. I battle depression, which ebbs and flows in my life, and when I am in the midst of it, everything is hard. But most things in life really aren’t hard.

And so the clock that now sits above my head to one side as I write and work and seek work, has taken on yet another connection point, this time not to family, but to an idea that is important to take to heart: Most of life is simpler than we make it.

Good lessons, both.

Now, I just have to get used to the tick-tock again. 


1 comment: said...

Hmm. Great post. Please, God, help us all find our level spot in the middle of the ups and downs and topsy turvys.