Right now the clock on the wall over my left shoulder reads that it is 9:30. The thing in the lower right hand of the screen I sit facing registers 3:17, and adds, in bold capital letters, PM. Which should I choose, I wonder? I choose neither, right now. Right now time doesn’t matter, its passing by or waiting to approach in a line seemingly endless, but which, I am certain, has an end. Don’t all lines? Isn’t that part of the nature of a line? What would one be called had it no beginning or no end? Certainly time’s line ends, as it certainly had a beginning. There are those who say it was …at a certain moment before which it wasn’t, and will end… at another one, when we do not know, and then it will not be. And there are differences of opinion about time’s starting point among folks. Some say it has been going on for either 13 billion and others hold out for a much shorter 6 thousand years give or take. They remind me of my two clocks… one of one mind and one of another. But that’s a discussion for another day…and who’s to say, as in the case of my two clocks, that both opinions aren’t entirely the correct ones.
What will there be of time when it has ended? Some say nothing. And others say well, maybe. It may indeed end and start up again. Or, at least, it may not be the “Time” we have come to know and to think ourselves to be be, sometimes, prisoners of and in. That’s something I’ve been thinking about for a little while, time that expands and contracts, speeds up and slows down.
Of course, time measured on my rather scatter brained clock hanging on the wall beside/behind me moves slowly in a circle and not a line, a circle with no beginning and no end, a circle simply repeating over and over what was once and will be again, making two complete turns around through the twelve numbers in a full day. I rarely look at the clock and cannot tell if it has sprung a gear and stopped at 9:30 there to stay for, well, only God knows how long, while some other part of its machinery faithfully and futilely ticks on; and soothingly so, I might add. I pay it no attention.
But I often look at the poem I have hung on the wall below it. It is called Pangur Ban, and was written by an Irish monk in a monastery somewhere on the Continent about a thousand years ago, about his white cat and himself, going about their different but “special” art; the White Cat “joyous with swift jumping” after mice, the monk joyous in his turn when he has “grasped the elusive but well loved problem.”
I grasp no well loved problems, nor jump after elusive mice, here in this quiet room. I watch the leaves turn, fall and grow again, and the river flow by the river banks and arcing trees above, listen to the birds and wait. I suspect most guys my age do that.
There is a comfort I have long felt in the rhythm of the clock on the wall. I remember the one on the night table in my parent’s room, and how it sounded on these mornings when a little me climbed into their bed to lay between them. So I like the steady battery powered tick of the clock on the wall.
This thing on the screen is silent. Bits and bytes make no sound. They just appear, programmed, without any meaning or purpose other than information. of which we have, I think, just too much these days for comfort. I sometimes think that when we invented clocks and divided time as we have, we were making the same mistake we had made in trying to build that tower to heaven all those years ago. Weren’t the periods of light and dark, the turnings of the seasons, enough? How much more accurate a count of passing time will we need? “The setting sun now dies away/ And darkness comes at close of day.” begins the song that we sing at evening prayer once every four weeks. Looking out the window I often find the words singing themselves as I watch the shadows grow.
You want to know the truth, though? I would miss that reminder over my shoulder, a gentle thing all in all, that there is still something left to do, something left to see, and, after all the odd elusive but well loved problem to occupy men at leisure. We would all miss, too, what we have made of the time piece, a work of art and ingenuity, whose value, really, is not so much in measuring moments, and promoting drudgery as it in letting us know when to stop, look and listen, and rest, and think, and play. There’s where we’ve gotten lost, I think, in first proposing, then doing and in evermore accepting that something, anything, can and should last 24/7, leaving no room for just “spending” time. Spending time on any elusive but well loved problem, or just chasing a mouse. My friend the monk lived by the bells that rung out in his monastery calling all to prayer and work and rest. A thousand years later his brothers live the same way, and until recently, so did everyone else. They had both clocks and bells on the ships I sailed long ago when I was young. I lived by the bells though, ringing the watch changes day and night…around the clock. Sometimes I’ll look at a clock and treanslate the time into bells ringing.
Another hymn, comparing time to an ever rolling stream, runs through my mind. Down that river we all sail, don’t you know. Thinking about the ocean we are headed for is, by turns, an exciting, pleasing and just a bit scary thought. But, we remember who calms the storms, don’t we? And whose hand is on the wheel. Who tolls the bell.