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Lessons in Time



My antique clock is back in its place on the bedroom wall, faithfully counting the seconds of each passing hour. I brought it home from the shop not long ago, its first trip to the shop in the 60-odd years I've owned it. A small piece had broken and allowed the mainspring to uncoil, making the clock useless until a master clock maker repaired the damage and set it running anew. I could have bought a new, prettier clock for less money, but this one has a history to it, and I'm not willing to give up on it as long as its imperfections can be made right.

The clock used to belong to a bank, which donated it to a church. One of the church members, a man then in his late 50's, told me he remembered carrying the clock in a small parade from the old church building to the new one in 1907 when he was a boy of 10. The clock hung in the church parlor, then the office, and finally, with the passage of time and the advent of modern clocks that relied on electricity instead of springs, it was relegated to the church kitchen, near the stove. There it hung for years, essentially neglected except for being wound every Sunday by the ladies who made coffee and served donuts to the church members. But at last the rigors of steam and dust and neglect took their toll. The clock stopped running and was discarded. Another boy, about 10 years old, found it in the trash can and retrieved it. That's when I became its owner and protector.

I took the clock home and opened up its wooden case. Inside I found wheels and springs and gears coated with the grease and dirt that had accumulated over the years. I carefully removed the mechanism and soaked it overnight in a coffee can half-filled with gasoline. I brushed and cleaned the debris away from the moving parts, then oiled them. When the mechanism was back in the case I sat the clock upright, pushed the pendulum, and hoped for the best. The clock began to tick! I adjusted the weight until the clock kept accurate time, which, I found, it could do with amazing accuracy! It then took its place on the wall in my room, marching into the future to the soft, steady sound of its own ticking. Even today it's capable of keeping perfect time, now that its heart is whole again.

My clock has taught me a little about life. Its history has several lessons for me. For example, what starts out as a joyful experience can turn into rather a tasteless life of doing my job, unnoticed and unappreciated. I may have a place of honor today, but a lesser role tomorrow, and perhaps even an ignoble place of service the day after. But in every moment it's still my responsibility to perform the role given me, with all the faithfulness I have, for as long as I'm able. I've also learned that sometimes we discard what is useful because we're unwilling or unable to restore it to service. We do that with clocks and computers and boots and...with people. Isn't it just less trying to give up on a friend who's disappointed us? Can't we avoid more heartache if we simply walk away from a relationship that no longer meets our needs? It is, and we can, but perhaps in so doing we've left another person in the trashcan, where they wait to be collected and disposed of for good. How much better it is to reach out, to reconcile, to restore. We don't have the power to give life, but we are capable of adding to its flavor and usefulness, if we only make the attempt. Finally, I've learned that there are some repairs I cannot make by myself. I need help, expert help from others. Somewhere, there's someone who understands my condition and knows how to make me right again so I can continue into the future, like my clock.

Each one of us serves our purpose, fulfilling our role with some degree of faithfulness. We tire, we accumulate debris that slows us down and makes us less effective. We change jobs or homes or partners, but the things that impede us remain inside, clogging up our mechanism, troubling our heart. One day we find ourselves at the point of being discarded as no longer useful to anyone. I think at that point we need a new owner and protector. I know this sounds foolish to some, but I firmly believe this is exactly the point where God is willing to intervene, to become that person to us. He will take us out of the trash can, clean out the debris, replace the parts that have broken, and give us the push we need to start ticking again.

My clock is back home where it belongs, marking its life and mine, teaching me about life with each soft and familiar tick.

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