Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Time & Orientation: Lessons from Great-Grandma's Clock


Today a kindly Argentine watchmaker taught me something important: You can wind something up all you like, but if the orientation is off, you won’t get too far. He was thinking of clocks, yet for me the unexpected lesson was more profound.

This morning, Señor Ventura, a local watchmaker, surprised me by calling on us to see if he could figure out why my wall clock had stopped running less than a week after I brought it back from his shop. He’d cleaned the works, and the door received new glass-this time with a nice bevel. It looks better than when I inherited it!

This antique Waterbury clock (styled after the one pictured) is one of my most treasured family heirlooms. It has probably clocked more miles than hours in the last century, trekking from New England to California (including a Yosemite cabin), then with me to New York and now Argentina.

Keeping this family clock running means something to me. Its constant ticking and tinny chiming every thirty minutes keeps me grounded in something deeper than time. Winding it is an almost sacred ritual for me on Sunday evenings. Thus when it stopped recently, I was delighted to make the acquaintance of a local watchmaker who expressed genuine interest in working on it.

So this morning, Señor Ventura, bespectacled and balding, contemplated the clock silently. “Miguela,” he whispered, "Listen to the clock."

“Tick TOCK tick TOCK tick TOCK,” it said. Reminded me a bit of a heart murmur with its irregularity.

“Now watch--and listen again.” He pushed the bottom of the clock case a few degrees to the left. Tick tock tick tock tick tock. No more syncopation! Just a steady even rhythm.

“It was not hanging straight,” Señor Ventura explained.

“That’s all?” I asked, amazed that such a small correction could make such a huge difference.

“We can wait five minutes to make sure,” he smiled. So we enjoyed some espresso, homemade chocolate chip cookies, and chatting about sailboats, with the sturdy heartbeat of the clock in the background. Then after perhaps ten well-regulated minutes that sped by like five, he quietly took his leave.

Pretty metaphorical stuff, eh? Being properly oriented matters as much as being energized, even for a clock. There's definitely some learning in there for me.

Five hours have passed since Señor Ventura’s visit, and the clock continues to wag its pendulum like a happy dog with a tail.

My Irish great–grandmother Sara, who bought the Connecticut-made clock years ago in San Francisco for her Montessori school camp in what is now Yosemite National Park, is surely smiling down on me. She's smiling all right, and she's asking me: "Okay, Gayle, you got the clock working. Now what do you intend to do with all that time, my dear?"

1 comment:

Katie said...

Nicely written - it's amazing the little life lessons that pop up all the time if we only pay attention. :)