Of broken clocks and mended souls

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In 1979, Dallas Magazine published an article on Louise Cowan, co-creator of the University of Dallas’ Core Curriculum. When the journalist visited UD and sat in on a Lit Trad IV class in Gorman D, she observed, “All the clocks I have seen on the UD campus are off by three or four hours.”

Over 40 years later, the clock in my own Lit Trad IV classroom was recently taken off the wall because for several weeks, time had been frozen at 4:26 p.m. The bell tower seems to have a polytropic vision of when exactly it wants to toll.

In a way, it is impossible to imagine this university without its lackadaisical clocks, peeling wood panels and ever-slanting Mall. They proclaim the school’s belief that when in the business of salvaging souls and Western Civilization, the details of when the bells toll are of minimal importance.

However, after almost being late to an exam because of a failed game of roulette in which I looked at a clock rather than my phone, I found myself once again considering the relationship between punctuality and human flourishing.

Rather than live in a world where a local bell tower is a person’s only way to know the time, our phones allow us to know the exact hour, minute and second in every time zone across the globe. Watches for under $10 are only a click away online.  

This ease of access to the time is a gift, as it allows one to take ownership of his day. It also invites a person to love his neighbor through punctuality. 

Arriving at events on time is an act of respect to others’ schedules and needs. Punctuality can be an act of sacrifice, denying oneself those extra five minutes of sleep or leisure for the good of the other person.

But just as a person can be deficient in timeliness, an excessive emphasis on time is also vicious. Sticking to a schedule at the expense of the human person abuses the gift of time. Just as “the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath,” the watch was made for man and not man for his watch. 

This was powerfully illustrated when I was in deep conversation with a friend just before we were supposed to go into an important meeting. As I realized the time, I lamented that we needed to cut off our conversation.

 “It’s ok, we can be late,” my friend said, causing my Prussian heart to palpitate. However, she was right. 

The fact that we were late to our meeting is likely not remembered by anyone except myself. But a year and a half later, that beautiful conversation continues to impact my life. It would have been cut short if my friend had not had the wisdom to see that our souls and the Holy Spirit’s movement in our conversation were more important than a meeting agenda.

When a reporter asked about his free time, Pope St. John Paul II replied, “All my time is free.” Every second of a person’s life is a second in which he or she is held in existence by Love Himself. The gentle tick of the watch invites us to remember the gift of each moment, and our vocation to return that gift to the One who loves us.

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