Before I go, I have something to say

Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

We’ve lived in our house for almost ten years now, and in all that time, there has been a clock on the wall in the living room. We hung it above one of the bookcases, and came to depend upon it. Like many people’s houses – yours, maybe? – our house is overflowing with clocks. The kitchen alone has three, because both the stove and the microwave above it have their own digital readouts. (It really bothers me that they are two different shades of green.) Then there’s the actual clock I bought at Target to hang above the sink. I’m grateful that neither the dishwasher nor fridge comes with a timepiece.

In the dining room is a beautiful wooden clock I inherited from my parents. It’s meant to sit on a mantel, but lacking that, ours sits on a desk, its second hand turning majestically. Every so often it gets tired and has to be revived, a process requiring a sort of kick-start, in which you place a finger on the start wheel in the back and rev it up three or four times. This makes the second hand spin like crazy, and finally settle back into its proper rhythm. Not long ago, it stopped working altogether, and I’m grateful to the Morgan Clock people for bringing it back to life.

Elsewhere, there are little clocks in bathrooms, sleek clocks in home offices, alarm clocks next to beds, annoying clocks in video equipment. The commencement and end of daylight savings time are days I dread, I’ll tell you that. By the time I get into my car to drive to work the following day, the sight of my off-by-an-hour car clock is enough to send me around the bend. But I punch a time clock, so it’s important that the clock in my car be correct. The fact that I wear a watch everywhere I go (hey, my husband wears his to bed) is only slightly helpful, although the rare days when I forget it drive me bonkers. Thank heavens, my work computer and my telephone both have functioning clocks, although they don’t agree with each other.

So anyway, last week we moved that living room clock, or rather, removed it altogether. In its place, we hung the painting by Jenny Braig we bought last summer, a beautiful oil depiction of a farm in the middle of summer. We have so little wall space, it hadn’t found a proper home yet, and was instead either propped up in front of a window or hung on a wall few people could actually see. So we took down everything from the top of the bookcase, including the clock, and hung the painting. Beautiful. Perfect.

Except for one thing. Now, when I’m racing about in the morning, cooking my egg, running outside to get the paper, hunting for my keys, pitting the Bing cherries for my snack, I find myself looking at the space where the clock used to be, to make sure I’m not running late, and finding instead . . . a white farmhouse. A red barn. A long, yellow road. Lots of blue and white sky. It’s beautiful, but it’s not telling me the time.

Of course I can look back at the kitchen clock, or into the dining room. But old habits die hard, and so I keep looking for the time where the painting now hangs. It’s a disconcerting experience, looking for one thing and finding another, especially when that one thing has been there forever. And I don’t even like that clock! It’s hexagonal, fake oak, with overly ornate Roman numerals. My husband has proposed another place where it could hang, but how long will it take for me to look for it there? And it’s still ugly. I’ll have to buy a new, cool looking one.

And after all, what’s so bad about seeing a beautiful landscape when you were expecting to see how many minutes after seven it is? Could this not be a sort of Zen reminder of the futility of keeping time, of being on time, of having enough time to do what’s really important? My boss is a nice guy; maybe he’ll understand when I waltz in at ten after eight because the painting told me to sit down on the sofa and finish that article I started reading last night.

And maybe not. So I’ll probably give in and buy a nice new clock and hang it in a new place in the living room and see how long it takes for me to get used to looking for it there. In the meantime, I’ll keep seeing the farm scene instead, and thinking about time in a completely different way. My husband’s family farm, right in the middle of Iowa, is still in the family, since his brother took it over after their parents died. It was declared a Century Farm several years ago, meaning it has been in the same family for at least one hundred years. So now I think about that kind of time when I look at the painting.

Or I think about my own past, when my family spent Sundays driving around in the country, past farmyards just like this one, and finally stopping to spread out a homemade quilt in the woods by the road to eat a picnic lunch of cold chicken and even colder beer and Kool-Aid. I might never get out of the house if I get to reminiscing about that, but it’s okay. Sometimes the best kind of clock is the internal one, the one that tells you who you are, and where you’ve been.


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