In the Company of Clocks

“You know what I remember most about you?” a former student asked me yesterday as she checked out my book at the library.

I was hoping for something like you taught me to love learning.

“Your clocks,” she said, “especially that melting one.”

When I retired, I brought home my classroom clocks—the Salvador Dali melting clock, for example, and the counterclockwise clock and the math-quiz clock.

And these clocks merged with my home collection—the light-up word clock and the days-of-the-week clock and the binary-time clock and the moonlight clock and the marble-rolling clock. And I could go on. Just ask my husband, who heroically made his rounds last weekend in what is hopefully one of the last time changes.

I like the company of clocks. I like the chiming and donging and whirring and how clocks steadfastly tick away the time. There’s something about their circling hands that mimics the sun rising and setting and the stars swinging slowly across the sky and the moon being born and dying and returning to life again. This going around and around brings the night and the day. It ends the months and the years and the decades.

You can’t touch time or smell it or see it. Not really. It’s an abstract idea. But clocks make the concept of time visible. And some clocks show this in fascinating ways.

I liked to watch students consider my clocks. When they stood in front of Salvador Dali’s melting clock, I hoped they would think about how time can feel distorted—how a minute on a dentist’s chair feels eternal while an afternoon skateboarding passes in a flash.

I hoped my counterclockwise clock made them curious about how the movement from left to right became standard for clocks, how many things became standard.

Now that I’m retired, all these clocks under one roof keep me strangely alert, as if messages are afloat in the air. And they keep me wondering—what if . . .

Come to think of it. Getting remembered for clocks? This is fine with me.

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