After days of wearing varying shades of grey, the skies have reached into the back of the closet for something blue. The rolling fields that sprawled bare, exposed, and surrendered as they lay fallow, soaking up those January rains, are now lightly dusted in white. The austere landscapes of this month have showcased with a subdued beauty the leafless, reaching branches of the trees which, as one of my sisters observed, are like intricate lacework in their unveiled nakedness. Even the nuthatches, juncos, morning doves, and chic-a-dees that frequent our feeders have chosen from a more understated colour palette.
On one of those sunless, mist-shrouded days, I took two mantle clocks to a nearby farm where I had seen a small sign at the end of the lane advertising clock repair work. My clock, a recent thrift find, ceased its ticking after only a few minutes. The other clock belonged to one of my sisters, and it had mixed up its chime. I drove slowly in the lane, past the resting garden and the raspberry patch being held upright with lengths of blue baler twine. There were no electricity lines running into the house, but a small windmill whirred swiftly in the wind.
I knocked at the first door, and a woman answered and directed me to the second door where her father-in-law fixes clocks. My knock at the second door was met with a warm greeting and a welcome into this couple’s small, “doddyhaus” kitchen. The sound of ticking clocks filled the room. A sewing machine sat open, mid project, under the east window. The gas light above the kitchen table was unlit. Later in the day, when I returned to pick up the clocks, a pieced slip cover in a medley of brown, crimplene patches was spread across that table.
After establishing my lineage, we talked clocks. The husband took my sister’s clock, opened the back, and held it up to peer through his round, wire-rimmed glasses at the inner workings. Monday’s laundry was strung on a line behind his gray head. He set the clock down, started it, and it chimed like it was in its right mind. The wife took my clock, opened it and proceeded to wind it. It started ticking like it had never stopped. Unbeknownst to me, one of the gears needed to be wound counter clockwise. “I can’t fix what isn’t broken”, the husband said gently but wryly.
When I asked what I owed, he said they don’t charge anything for their labour. I asked why not, and he replied that it’s their way of giving to the needy in the world. A contribution would be accepted, but it would be passed on to charity. He handed me a typewritten note that had their “policy” on it, while his wife smiled demurely at our exchange. With that and some advice on how to adjust my grandfather clock, I headed back from, what felt like, another era.
This aged couple with no hydro lines, no cable lines, and no internet had found a way to do what they could with the everyday work of their hands. As I drove back out the laneway, the song line we used to sing as kids – “Right in the corner where you are” – came to mind. However, when I looked up the lyrics, the line actually says – “Brighten the corner where you are”. Seems to me, this pair are living out both those lines – they are brightening the corner right where they are.
To brighten the corner where we are doesn’t mean living small and unaware, but rather living with an awareness that what we do in our corner can ripple out to touch and nourish the greater good. The overwhelming magnitude of “dis-ease” in our shared global home is numbing and can be incapacitating, but when I see how something as unlikely as clock repairs happening on a farm at Jigs Hollow can seep good into the world, I’m buoyed by hope and inspired to brighten my own corner.
“The more I think about the human suffering in our world and my desire to offer a healing response, the more I realize how crucial it is not to allow myself to become paralyzed by feelings of impotence and guilt. More important that ever is to be very faithful to my vocation to do well the few things I am called to do and hold on to the joy and peace they bring me. I must resist the temptation to let forces of darkness pull me into despair and make me one more of their many victims…” ~Henri Nouwen.
Bringing intention to our corner doesn’t excuse us from engaging in the broader scope of our world, but rather offers us a place to do well what our hand finds to do, a place to take the steps that are right there to take. We may never know where our work, our deeds ripple to and, as a friend said, nor are we entitled to know. But, we can know that doing the thing in front of us is the thing to do and that that step can lead to another. May we not be “weary in well doing” and remember that, like Esther of old, we may be here, right in our corner, for “such a time as this”.