88: Time to Reflect

88: Time to Reflect

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miracles and More

Time to Reflect

They say that time heals all things, they say you can always forget; but the smiles and the tears across the years they twist my heart strings yet!

~George Orwell, 1984

We lost my brother to a heart attack early one Valentine’s Day. He would have appreciated the irony in that — his own heart failing on the day when we celebrate hearts and love. He was sixty-three. Bob died alone in the ER, without hearing that we loved him, without goodbyes, hugs, or the touch of a hand. He was gone.

Growing up together, this older brother of mine was a mix of quiet genius and cheeky rascal. Never one to miss an opportunity to provoke or tease, Bob ended up creating a family legacy with our kitchen clock. Clocks that hung in people’s kitchens back then were electric and plugged into a special, recessed outlet high on a kitchen wall. One of the inconveniences of this was that if the power went out, the clock would stop and wouldn’t restart on its own when the power was restored. Someone would have to climb up to re-start it by spinning the shaft that stuck out the back of the clock.

This climbing task fell to my brother when he was a teenager. One day when re-starting the clock he twirled the shaft in the wrong direction. My mother soon pointed out that our clock was running backward. She thought it would be a simple thing to unplug it and restart it, but Bob was not only fascinated — he was delighted!

The clock came down off the wall. Bob re-marked the numbers in their mirror-image locations, and reinstalled that clock to run backward intentionally. Since it was well out of our petite mother’s reach to change the clock herself, it continued running backward throughout the remaining decades our family spent in that house. It frustrated my mother to no end. She would glance at the clock, misunderstand the time, and have a mental stumble in the midst of her busy day. “Bob, you and your damn clock!” was often heard in our home.

Not long after my brother died, I got a phone call from our mom. “Are you sitting down?” she asked. I assured her that I was not in any danger should I faint from whatever news she had, and she continued. “My clock is running backward. I’ve been sitting here drinking coffee and watching it for about fifteen minutes now. It’s running backward.”

This news was stunning all by itself, but after more conversation I learned that the backward-running clock was a digital clock. Why and how could a digital clock run backward? Later that day, my husband and I drove over to Mom’s house and saw it for ourselves. I learned that the clock was one my brother had purchased for her, a fact that strengthened the connection to him. Bob had also bought an identical clock for his own home, and my mother had brought it back to her place when we cleaned out his house.

Mom had often seemed doubtful about an afterlife, and about many things that couldn’t be touched, analyzed, or scientifically explained. At some point, though, my mother accepted the clock’s odd behavior as a message that her son was all right. She speaks somewhat easily of his life and his stories, perhaps more comfortably than she speaks of others who have passed. Mom soon unplugged the backward clock and replaced it with the identical clock from my brother’s house. That clock is working normally and remains in her home to this day.

Meanwhile, my husband and I have the original clock that began this story. It’s old and ugly, with its scrawled re-numbering that memorializes my brother’s youth. I feel an instant connection with him when I see it — his playfulness, his genius, and his absence. Evidently, clocks have become my brother’s means to connect with us now — clocks that cross time and dimensions.

~Judy Bonamici Cools

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