There is a clock on my mantel that does not work. It belonged to my grandmother Nanny and chimed out the hours in the house where my father grew up. The clock expert in our family tried to fix it a few years ago. “It is beyond repair,” he said. “But it sure is pretty.”
Each clock has its own sound and song. I wish I knew the sound of my silent mantle clock.
The oxygen tank is now a fixture beside Lynn’s bed, though she doesn’t always use it. More every day, I think, but when visitors come, the whirring of the big machine stops and she frees herself from the entangling tubes to hold babies and play games. Her smile has not faded, not at all through these few years of cancer and chemo and then cancer and chemo again. But she seems to be tired.
She is giving away her things now: jewelry and books and dollies and knick-knacks that were filed just so in drawers. Buck tested her yesterday, a smile tugging at his lips as he spoke: “Lynn, do you know where any dental floss is?”
“It’s in the little box on the left side of the closet in the office,” she said.
He laughed and pulled spool after spool of floss from his pockets. “You knew!”
“Of course I knew!”
His hands were filled with floss. “But why do we have so much floss?”
“It’s great for sewing,” she said. “Very strong to hold things together.”
The clock on their mantel chimes every quarter of an hour, building up the notes to a song that plays fully on the hour. Years ago, when I was not yet an Oliphant, I used to nap in their sunken living room after an early morning breakfast. Traffic was too beastly to go back to my apartment, so I read the Bible and napped on the green couch. I have nightmares when I nap, realistic and terrifying. But if I can nap lightly in short bursts, the nightmares stay buried. That clock chimed me from nightmares every fifteen minutes, the song bringing me up from the deep and dark places of sleep.
Lynn often moved about the house in a robe and slippers while I slept on the green couch, carrying a worn Bible and coffee with heavy whipping cream. I remember the sounds of her cleaning windows and talking out loud, to herself or her Jesus. I’m not sure she knows she does this, but if you’ve been with her in a still house, you know.
Once when Robbie and I were dating, I went into his room after he woke up. The bedrooms in their old house played something like musical chairs: everyone moving from one to the next. At the time his room was next to the kitchen and I left the door open, a sign of good faith. Lynn came through the door a few minutes after I did and she was crying. I realized—and it took me a moment to recognize a rarely-seen emotion—that she was angry. In their house, bedrooms were off limits—a rule I had not (but should have) known.
I felt embarrassed, though Rob and I had only been talking, the open door carrying our voices into the kitchen. Embarrassed and also sorry that Lynn had to confront me. Her tears were from the struggle of her conviction: knowing she needed to say something, but not wanting to have to say it. I love that she did.
And she would still today, if needed, speak her convictions (through tears) to her loved ones—the best kind of rebuke.
Lynn is winding down.
We see it and we know it and sometimes we talk of it or talk around it, but it is always there. Sometimes she forgets. “Save those pantyhose rubber bands for me! I have a project for them,” she said yesterday. And then a brief look crossed her face as she remembered: she might not get to the project.
I wish she could lay out for us all the projects in her head, the thoughts unsaid and the moments unhad. They would stretch out for miles and miles.
Some think of God as a clockmaker who wound this world into motion and then sat back to watch it work.
He IS a clockmaker, but his hands are busy at the wheels. He is elbow deep in the back of this big clock, turning and adjusting and moving the gears in ways that we cannot fully see or understand. His hands are black with the grease of the motors. He keeps the time expertly. He keeps it perfectly. This world would collapse if not for his busy fingers in the middle of it all, nudging and urging it onward. His hands are in the gears.
Lynn may be winding down, but across that invisible curtain, God is gearing up for her. There is a time coming when in an instant she will come alive in a way that none of us can yet know. The disciples caught a glimpse of it in Jesus after the cross. He ate with them and drank with them like a man and he appeared and disappeared like a ghost. He still bore the scars of the cross, the holes into which Thomas put his hands.
On one side we wind down, but in that moment of transference we are wound right back up into something new and beautiful and whole and perfect. Not because of who WE are. Lynn is a sinner like the rest of us. (She would cry angry tears at me if I did not say this.) She will not be with Jesus because she is remarkable. She will be with Jesus because Jesus called her and brought her. He bought her a wedding dress and put it on her and walked her down the aisle. He wrote the marriage certificate with his blood.
(Do you know that he did the same for you?)
Each moment now stretches as the clock slows. It no longer keeps good time. We are holding our breath and every moment matters. We feel the pace slowing to a crawl, despite our mad attempts to wind back the hands a few more hours, days, months, years. Oh, that we could wind it back for years!
I will trust the clockmaker and His perfect time. I will trust that He is always working, always holding this together.
This I know and will tell myself quietly and also aloud: His hands are in the gears. His hands are in the gears. His hands are in the gears.