When my wife and I got married more than two decades ago, she gave me a windup mantel clock she’d found in an antique store. It was, like the man she’d taken as a husband, simple, old-fashioned and guaranteed to go slack by the weekend.
My wife envisioned the clock on the shelf of some oak-lined English study we’d build for me in our house one day. Having children sidelined that kind of extravagance. The mantel clock has rested instead atop our old piano in the den, as fixed in its place as a bell in a steeple.
I try to wind it every Saturday, along with a wall clock in the living room. Their chimes talk across the house day and night, marking a marriage that’s slowly accumulated its minutes into months, then years, then decades.
Once, during the difficult pregnancy that brought us a happy, healthy daughter, my wife got so sick that even small sounds rattled her. I stopped the mantel clock, and it was as if time itself had somehow been suspended, our comforting household routine disrupted by anxiety and doubt.
Our luck rebounded, and the clock went back to counting the hours, its ticking an anthem of assurance that life has a way of leading us through darkness, even when we lose faith that it will.
I thought about all of this last weekend as I adjusted the clocks for the end of Daylight Saving Time. It was days before an election that many had worried would end a lot of other things, including the republic.
With the election now over, worry still seems like a way of life these days. The national mood makes me think of E.B. White, a writer who often works his way into my musings because his wisdom remains durable, even three decades after his death.
In 1973, a man named Mr. Nadeau — his first name is apparently now lost to us — wrote White to ask what he thought about the future of the human race. Then, as now, Washington, D.C., was a mess, the environment looked mean, humanity even meaner.
White wrote back and argued against despair. “As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate,” White wrote. “Hope is the thing that is left to us, in a bad time. I shall get up Sunday morning and wind the clock, as a contribution to order and steadfastness. … Man’s curiosity, his relentlessness, his inventiveness, his ingenuity have led him into deep trouble. We can only hope that these same attributes will enable him to claw his way out. Hang onto your hat. Hang onto your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.”
That seems like good advice in this autumn of our discontent. So I will continue to wind our clocks and hope for better days ahead.
Follow Danny Heitman on Twitter, @Danny_Heitman.