I was raised in a house of clocks. They counted the hours, minutes, and seconds of our lives in steady, unchanging beats. They all chimed the hours, and the half hours, and the ship’s clock chimed the quarter hours too.
Most of the clocks are antique. My father winds them weekly, with old keys that live underneath each one, with the exception of the cuckoo clock; it is wound nightly, by adjusting its weighted chains. I remember when, as a child, he taught me to wind them. I knew it was a special privilege; even my mother is not allowed to touch the clocks.
In a house of antique clocks, a person never knows the exact time. My parents cannot hear the first five minutes of any television show, because all of the clocks chime on the hour, but not concurrently. Ironically, or perhaps as a result, my father is extremely anxious about time. He arrives for any engagement a half hour early, and reads his book in the car, because he fears arriving late.
When I take friends or partners to my parents’ home, the clocks typically unnerve them. They ask how could anyone sleep through the chimes, and how could we tolerate the constant ticking, in so many timbres. To them, the sound is a reminder of time slipping away.
I have only one clock, and it is a cheap, plastic wall clock from Ikea. But it ticks, and in the morning, after the sounds of morning rush hour and my neighbors leaving for work have subsided, I like to sit in the quiet and listen to the ticking clock. For me, its constancy is reassuring. It doesn’t count down the seconds of my life, rather, it marks my life’s continuance. Clocks are the heartbeat of time, and listening to that heartbeat, like laying my head on the chest of a loved one and listening to her heartbeat, for me, makes time stand still.