The Clock

Ritual, he had inherited from his father. That man made a ritual out of everything he did. Driving, shopping, coming home, all the simple absent-minded things every person does, his father did mindfully.

The Clock
Photo by Matthew Wiebe / Unsplash

It had been a long day.  His mind was still swimming from work and the traffic of his commute.  Even after all these years, the level of spite with which other drivers appeared to sling their cars around had never lost its capability to stun him.  He closed the door on the sounds of the street outside.  He turned the knob to engage the bolt.  He slowly spun to face the foyer and absently dismissed his keys into the table-top bowl resting to his right.  This dance of his, from the closing of the door to the deposition of his keys, he had done a few thousand times by now; his silent ritual signaling to himself an end to the stresses of the day.

The room, though welcoming, seemed off somehow.  He had gotten home a bit later than usual, so the space was darker than it ought to be, but that wasn’t it.  Something seemed to be missing.  Not a thing, really, just something seemed different.  What was it?  Ah, yes.  The clock.  His father’s grandfather clock wasn’t ticking.  “Looks like I was forgetting something after all” he half-chuckled to himself.  The night before, he hadn’t been able to shake the feeling that he’d omitted something important from his routine.  “This job really is taking a bite out of me, huh?” he said to the open air as he walked across the dim, sunset-traced room.  He hadn’t held this job all that long and he resolved again to use the time off once it kicked in.  Keeping his nose to the grindstone was starting to wear old on him.

He wondered sometimes if his father had known what he was doing when he left him that clock.  He doubted it was deliberate.  Anachronistic things had taken on a weight to him not extended to the throw away things of today.  Perhaps his dad had seen a glint of that in him, but most likely he hadn’t known that about his boy.  Still, the impact was real.

Once a week he put on his white cotton gloves and hoisted those brass chains and weights.  Once a week he minded the gain on the mechanism and adjusted the time.  Once a week, amidst all that fiddling, he found himself unable not to think of his dad.  He had watched him so many times tinkering with this clock.  He remembered the man so many times noting the grain of the wood, the curve of the pendulum, and the tone of the chime when he closed the cabinet.  He saw his father’s attentive hands, his careful eyes, and how he inclined his ear to the sounds of the thing; the same scene repeated some thousands of times and stretched like a backdrop across his childhood memories.  It was one of his father’s carefully attended-to rituals and one he celebrated himself to this day.

Ritual, he had inherited from his father.  That man made a ritual out of everything he did.  Driving, shopping, coming home, all the simple absent-minded things every person does, his father did mindfully.  To this day, when he caught himself focused on not much of anything, he centered his thoughts on the thing he was doing in the moment.  That practice had been the suggestion of his dad more times than he could count. “Attention is the one thing we all crave more than anything else, son.  It's currency between people and is one you can earn through practice alone.  It's highly valued because so few of us know how to spend it well”.  The older man reminded him of this lesson dozens of times, whenever he caught his son doing something excessively idle with his time.  Yet for all his father’s reinforcements of the point, it never stuck with him.  Then all at once, on a cool autumn day, the older man was gone.  On that day, experience had made a ready heart and the lesson, so many times spoken before, finally found purchase.

When all was set right with his father’s clock, he closed the cabinet and turned the key.  He found his hand resting on the spot where his father had rested his so many times before.  Even if he wasn’t trying to remember his dad in those moments, the reality of the thing pulled his mind backwards and backwards is where his father was now.  He died this day, this month in 2013 and is at rest in the National Cemetery a bit north of where his son now called home.

As the memories flowed up within him, he bowed his head and closed his eyes.  He reflexively held his breath for a moment, some part of him convinced he would drown in the current that was overtaking him.  He thought about his dad.  He thought about his last months with him.  He strained his mind to recall the voice of the man from whom toward the end illness had stolen the faculty of speech.  He allowed himself the slow realization that he was now 55 miles and 9 years downstream of him.  It struck him bittersweet that such a distance he could never hope to regain, and yet in the moments of recognition around that clock he almost saw him.  He almost heard his voice. He almost felt his presence.  He almost forgave himself for squandering so much attention that he could have spent well on the man who loved him so dearly.  He almost forgot the distances between them as he remembered the man whose hand once held an impossibly small version of his own and whose absolute love and steadfast attention had once been his for so long.  “I love you, daddy” he recalled the little boy say, his hand squeezing that of his father’s. “I miss you” added the man who now stood wrapped in memory beside his father’s clock.

Slowly, the torrent subsided, and his attention returned to the present.  Something else had changed in the space around him.  “Hey dad”, a voice deeper than it seemed it should be announced from beside him.  “Hey kiddo” he said to his son who stood now with him in front of the clock.  “Have you ever noticed how rich the grain of this wood is?” he asked to the younger.  “Not really”, the boy replied.  “Son, attention is the one thing we all crave more than anything else.  It's currency between people and is one you can earn through practice alone.  It's highly valued because so few of us know how to spend it well” he said.  The boy half sighed, “Yeah, I know.  You say it all the time, dad.”  “Ha!” he laughed at himself.  “I suppose I do, don’t I?  Hey, I was just about to make something to eat.  Why don’t you come to the kitchen with me and let’s see what we can find.  We can trade stories about the day.”  The younger and the older left the clock and chatted their way down the hall.  The clock ticked softly to the empty room.  It was a thing pregnant with memory and meaning, and a focal point for love and attention. It was a thing to be passed between generations.