I seem to be having challenges with clocks at the moment. There are three here: a striking clock; a chiming clock; and a cuckoo clock. The first two reside in the living room and the third in the upstairs hall.
The sound of the striking clock feels like the heartbeat of the house, and its voice when it calls out the half hours and hours is deep and resonant. The chiming clock ticks to a different rhythm, which in turn is different from that of the cuckoo clock. They each have a different voice, a different way of singing the hours, quarters and halves.
I said before they are challenging me now, the chiming clock on the mantle in particular. Several months ago when resetting it after it wound down I did something. First of all I could not get it to speak for several days. When I finally did it did not speak the correct time. It is hours ahead of itself, ranging from four to eight, of course it could possibly be argued it is behind itself, but that is way too hard to get my head around.
Suffice it to say, it does not keep anything like accurate time, but I did manage to get it to communicate. I was very careful not to let it run all the way down and I never wound it to much. Unfortunately, over the weekend, Purfling, one of the cats choose not to listen to me when I asked her not to make a dash from the back of the chair, over the top of the upright piano, and across the mantle piece to the front window. My mantle has lots of things on it, at the time my birthday cards were still there, besides the usual residents of the chiming clock in the middle, a candlestick on each side and various bits of rock, stick and the a vase with a rose bud from the bush at the front door sitting between the clock and the left hand candle stick. To her credit Purfling did not move any of the bits, but did jump on the top of the clock. It stopped.
Since the I have not been able to get it to go again. I keep trying the way I was told to do that, which was tipping it to one side. It will tick a bit and then not.
Last night when I came home from a meeting both the striking clock and the cuckoo clock had also run down. No problem with the former, but the latter took several tries before I finally kept going just before I turned in.
Why am I saying all this?
In some profound sense, time is not real – not in the way a radish is real or an okapi is real – but it is has always been important for humans to mark it’s passing, to keep track of it. There have been calendars for millennia, and clocks and watches for centuries. Religions from nearly the beginning of religious awareness have needed to know how to predict the phases of the moon, the circuiting of the sun, particular parts of the day.
We are dependent on knowing when we are. It is as important as knowing where we are. It occurred to me, just this minute, to wonder why watches are called watches. It is something I will have to investigate – but I digress.
To my thinking, the challenge of time runs even deeper than all that, it goes to the heart of our need to orientate ourselves to something far bigger than we are, far more mysterious. Having marked a birthday recently, and thinking back to when I was much younger and remembering that back then I could not even begin to comprehend myself at the age I am now, has perhaps ignited this reflection.
How we spend our time is important. And to use those words as if time is some sort of currency says a great deal. Like pounds and pence we can waste it or invest it in someone worthy or something worthwhile. What we can’t do is bank it for later, as we can money. There is no such thing as a time ISA. It is a currency whose value, more like a voucher or coupon, has an expiration date. We do not know when that is, but that being the case is not in question.
We are told to take time out for ourselves. Does that mean finding a way to step out of The Ongoing Flow of Being? I can’t imagine how I’d take time out for a walk or on a date. Is it possible to take time, to grasp it? Too often it seems we try. We cover up wrinkles. We hide the signs of age and aging. We engage in activities that are not always appropriate for where we are on our life journey. We all to often pretend that being a year old doesn’t really matter all that much. Paradoxically, though time is not material, it invades every aspect of our materiality, for the part of us that is matter, it matters.
So, I think the clocks are giving me a message more important than what hour it is, or reminding me of when I have to be somewhere. That they are being fiddly is reminding me to be more mindful of how I use my time, not to let it just slip though my fingers like the sands of an hourglass. Not to obsess about it, but to be careful, pay attention, be attentive. To do something each day for someone else, and by someone I do not mean it has to be a person. To express gratitude and love. To find joy in the small things, no less and even more so than in the big ones. To smell the lilacs and roses. To listen to the birds. To let the wind blow through and tangle my hair. To greet the stars at night. To feel the rain on my face . . . you get the idea.
They remind me that what I understand as time is linked inextricably to the yet, as surely as to the now and to the then, to the future as much as to the present and the past, regardless of how I may understand those concepts on any given day.