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Counting Time With Old Clocks

Updated on November 25, 2013

Time is said to be more precious than money. More money is easily earned, but all the money in the world cannot purchase even a single additional day when one's allotment of time upon this earth is spent. Time is a temporary continuum, suspended between eternity past and eternity future. According to the Bible, when the last day has come, time will be abolished, after which we will exist in an eternal, rather than temporary, state.

This makes the concept of time exceedingly precious, and brings to mind such exhortations as to "live in the moment" and to "live mindfully". One method of living with greater awareness of the passing moments, hours and days is to live with an old fashioned, wind-up tick tock clock.

There is no question that atomic and quartz clocks keep more accurate time than pendulum clocks, which must be manually wound each day with a key. Accuracy is not the issue here, however, but awareness. Some quartz and atomic clocks even tick ... but none tock, none need winding, and none speak from the soul of a quiet house to bring awareness to the passing of the hours the way old clocks do. If you are so blessed as to have an old clock, you know these things already.

When I was a child, my grandparents had an antique shop in a small town in southeastern North Carolina. My grandfather built lamps and repaired clocks. Within the walls of his establishment, dozens of elderly (yet carefully preserved) clocks of all shapes and sizes ticked together and, more or less in unison, cheerfully chimed away the hours. These clocks were for sale, and when one left the store for a new home, it went as carefully packaged and protected from the rough bumps of life as might a baby be prepared for its ride home from the hospital. I used to fancy these clocks as hearts, living within the various homes of our community where they would happily tick-tock time away, and in so doing, mark and measure the life stories of the families with whom they lived.

Some readers might remember the "olden" days when a human being had to physically stand up and cross the room to change the channel on the television set from one channel to one of the other available two. There was interaction involved; children knew the feel of the minute ridges on the volume knob, and exactly how hard to twist the channel changing dial. It was almost (but not quite) a relationship.

Old clocks offer perhaps the greatest existing opportunity for a relationship with an inanimate object today. (Some males might object that such an opportunity also exists with automobiles, but my audience is almost assuredly composed primarily of women.) Clocks must be wound. Somebody must take the key, place it within one of the two winding portals, and wind ... clockwise for the portal on the left, and counterclockwise for the portal on the right. All old clock aficionados know the cardinal sin of old clock winding: Thou Shalt Not Over-Wind. Over-winding is the surest way to make a clock stop ticking, and to require said clock to be taken to the clock doc, a trip sure to involve great expense (and possible travel) as clocks are not covered by Obamacare and clock docs are few and far between.

Clocks mark the times of our lives ... the time of our birth, and the time we die. It was first a Victorian, and later a Southern custom to stop clocks at a person's last breath. Our birth certificates record the hour and minute of birth. Some of us are superstitious regarding the time shown on the face of a clock that stops ticking and take it as an omen to from particular books of the Bible bearing that chapter and verse (aka, hour and minute). Chiming clocks tell time. Clocks that speak from the silence of our homes, chiming the hour and half hour, clocks that must be interacted with to function, clocks that rescue us from what would otherwise be a despairing void of sound with their steady beat of welcome when we return home from an outing ... these clocks are more to us than mere functional machines. They are part and parcel of out lives, are our friends, and are as special to us as favorite teacups or evening lamplight.

Eternity is everlasting, but time is measured with a distinct beginning and end. The Bible marks the start of time in Genesis 1:1 with, "In the beginning, God ...." Regarding the world's end date, in Matthew 24, Jesus informed his listeners, "No man knows the day or hour ...." All of which emphasize both the fleeting nature and the value of time as it is counting down for us, individually, if not collectively, at this very moment. Yes ... we can use our digital, electronic, atomic and battery powered watches and clocks to keep track of time ... but how much more pleasure might we wring from our moments by permitting a clock with presence, with old fashioned charm and tick tocking chime to tell us the time of our days?


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