Given that I’m working on my first book, I went to La-Chaux-de-Fonds to visit Le Corbusier’s first commissioned project: La Maison Blanche. This small town lost in the Jura mountains is a Unesco World Heritage site and the belly button of the haute watchmaking industry. But don’t be deceived – it is one warty witch. As I tried to make sense of its grey monotonous streets, I happened to stumble upon the watch lover’s equivalent of Hansel and Gretel’s gingerbread house. The fact it is called the “International Clock-making Museum” was merely the witch’s ploy to lure me inside, as if a gumdrop it were. And like so many fairy tales, this blog post is going to get much worse, before it gets any better. (But don’t worry, there’s a prince and a steed – well, a dog – and all ends well.)
Ducking under the museum’s macabre concrete threshold (whose ominous feeling was only reinforced by the epithet “Man and Time” scrawled overhead), I came into a foreseeably uneventful space with row upon row of sleek spot lit display cases. But as I made my way deeper inside, my gut began to register the irregularity of hundreds – no, thousands – of measured beats hopelessly out of sync with each other. Jeweled clocks, mantel clocks, cuckoo clocks. Wrist watches, ring watches, pocket watches. Gold, wood, diamonds. Antique, vintage, technological advancements. Pendulums, batteries, celestial forces. The swelling cacophony became an army of Time’s mercenaries marching in my solitary, mortal direction. The witch cackled and only Edgar Allen Poe came to my aid – raving uselessly, as he tends to do, at the raven:
“There came to my ears a low, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I knew that sound well, too. It was the beating of the old man’s heart. It increased my fury, as the beating of a drum stimulates the soldier into courage.” (The Tell-Tale Heart)
Thankfully, to our ears, people’s hearts still tick in the relative silence of their caged chests. If we heard their hearts beating as if hung around their necks, we might gain a nervous twitch or two ourselves. Our thoughts might more easily slip into disconcerting fears of the silence that would inevitably follow that tick, tick, ticking. Unfortunately for me, such thoughts were already upon me – gripping like altitude sickness. Here I was knee deep in unwelcome reflections about time’s unrelenting sweep over the days we call our lives, when C.S. Lewis popped out of a grandfather clock to say “the future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of 60 minutes an hour, whatever he does, whomever he is.” So, really, this museum showcased nothing more than memento mori – reminders that, no matter how rich, how elaborate, how ingenious the tools of measurement, time expires for us all. Measurement controls nothing. And ironically enough, hadn’t most of these timepieces outlived their makers? Merry thoughts, indeed! At least Dr. Seuss was a little more playful about it: “How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before it’s afternoon.”
Back in pretty Neuchâtel, I began to make my way back up this spiral of God-less thinking, when my wedding anniversary came round. Isn’t an anniversary of any kind just another way of keeping time? And yet it filled me with happiness, not angst. The fundamental difference was that in this particular instrument of measurement I found a perhaps more obvious opportunity to reflect on what has been given and that, I’m glad to say, has been quite a lot.
I’ve gushed about Luis unabashedly throughout this blog. He’s a wonderful man and we’ve been married for 7 years. If there was a script to married life, we lost it early on and have been improvising ever since. But this has its advantages – nothing is done automatically and you’re more open to unexpected detours, that turn into new paths, that turn into new destinations. Our 7 year marriage certainly doesn’t look like most people’s 7 year marriage: we’ve moved house far too often, we both leapt away from promising careers to do something that felt truer to heart and our family is a strong but small number of two. (There is also, of course, our unwieldy pooch, cranky perhaps at having covered so many miles this year.)
We’ve had our fair share of hardships, let there be no doubt. But I thank God for those too. They’ve only served to make us go deeper into the reasons why we do things, the reasons we’re better together. That’s made our bond stronger. And – crazy or not – I can’t shake the feeling these trials are all just a reminder that we’re special. God for us did not want an ordinary life and adversity grows in the same soil as uniqueness. To that, Time is but a witness. There are things even it can’t dent.