How love can stop time

Tuesday, March 5, 2002

Have you ever stopped to think what material things you couldn't live without? What few things you would put in the duffle bag of your life if you had to go away and start again?

Funny how few of your things really matter when you think about it that way. Out of all of the goods you've worked so hard for so long to get, how many really mean something?

Four years and thousands of dollars worth of college to get good-paying jobs. Endless overtime and weekends worked to buy a little more stuff.

So, if you left it all behind, what couldn't you do without?

A pair of $200 tennis shoes, or a pair of $60 jeans? I hope not.

Jewelry or other items worth a lot of money? Without a special sentiment, it really isn't worth so much after all.

Photographs of your loved ones? A poem or a song that means so much to you? A memory pressed into a book? Better.

Strange, I can't think of a thing I've bought with all the hard-earned money that I'd really, really need.

I'd want the first drawings my children ever made for me. A woodcarving knife that a dear old friend made me. A couple of books that seem to have the power to transport me to wherever I need to go. An arrowhead my mother found as a little girl. The beginnings of a friend's story about a wonderful island that always touches me. None of it worth anything, not to anyone else. Priceless to me.

And I would take a watch that's never run a day since I owned it.

If that seems like the most impractical choice of an impractical lot, I suppose it is.

Even if it worked, I really have no need for a clock. I tend to wake up when I'm rested, and go to bed when I'm tired. In between, I've never been fond of chasing a schedule.

This watch isn't about telling time, it's about telling stories.

It rests in a scratched-up case of thick tin, sort of a tear-drop shaped affair. It fills your hand, with a hefty, solid feel. It's face is a little yellowed by time, with a couple of nicks and dings. You have to insert a little key to wind it, but there's no point to that, since the hands are frozen forever in place, just at 5 o'clock.

Family legend is that my great-great-great-great grand-father carried the pocket watch to war that his lady love had given him. He, and it, came through many Civil War battles without a scratch.

The story goes that when he came marching home, she was waiting, and embraced him so hard that the faithful watch in the breast pocket of his coat stopped dead at that moment.

So the watch doesn't work for me, but the story sure does. It will go with me everywhere I go in this life, and then I'll pass it on to my son to travel on.

I have no idea how a broken old pocket watch managed to survive in the family so long. Nothing else has endured - all the things that must have been of worth at the time have long since been forgotten, while a worthless clock continued to move smoothly through time, never keeping time, but always telling its timeless tale.

Years ago, I did visit one of the battlefields where the man fought, and I thought I felt something there, too. But that's another story.

As a teenager, I took his watch to a clock-maker to check the date behind the family folklore. He asked me if I had any idea what it was worth, and I told him the story. Yeah, that's what it's worth.

He said it was possible to fabricate new parts to make it run, but that's the last thing I want.

I like it the way it is, stilled forever, at 5 o'clock in the evening on a peaceful spring day in 1865.

I'll never know what time it is, but I will always be reminded what love is, and why it is stronger than time.

Not much that I own matters to me, but wherever I am, I can look at that pocket watch and think of the day that my great-great-great-great grandmother stopped time. And smile.