Wound Too Tight

My cuckoo clock stopped working. It’s been hanging on the same wall for several years, working just fine, until one day when it just stopped. There are no batteries to replace, since a cuckoo clock is wound by pulling on the weighted cords.

The instructions that came with it are in German, which made it difficult for me to diagnose the problem. But I gathered from the pictures that it’s very important that the clock be correctly balanced, both horizontally and vertically. Looking at it from the side, I decided the vertical balance might be off, so I stuck a folded business card behind it. And when that didn’t help, I folded the card again. Still didn’t work.

The pendulum on the clock has a weight on it that can be adjusted up and down. The higher up the weight goes, the faster the clock ticks; move it lower, and the clock moves slower. Again, balance is the key.

Fooling around with that pendulum brought back memories of the metronome that stood on the piano when I was a kid. Now, I never asked to have a metronome. I hated the thing because it was very good at pointing out how rhythmically and musically challenged I was. And that would have been fine if my parents had heeded the metronome’s warning about my lack of musical talent. Instead, that damn metronome announced to the world with every tick-tock, tick-tock that the only way I’d ever make it to Carnegie Hall would be as a paying customer or a ticket taker. And that meant I needed to practice harder.

Here’s the thing about metronomes and cuckoo clocks: if the pendulum swings two ticks to the left, then it’s going to swing two tocks to the right. It’s the law of pendulums that they must swing the same distance in one direction as they do in the other. And if, for some reason, that doesn’t happen, then the thing is broken.

I think we’re all pendulums, to be honest. In the past few years, I’ve caught up with old friends, and I can’t think of a single exception to the pendulum rule. The people who were wild in high school and college have swung exactly that far in the opposite direction, especially when it comes to how they’re raising their own kids. The straight-laced, zipped up kids from way back when (including my very own self) have turned into irreverent smartasses. And the ones who were never too extreme – well, their pendulums still aren’t swinging out so wide in either direction. They were balanced then, and they’re still that way.

Balance is everything, it turns out. Or as my friend Grant (aka Sister Louisa) says, “I know there’s a balance; I see it when I swing past.”

My clock still isn’t working. And I’m thinking about not getting it fixed. Because seeing that pendulum hanging there completely still is a reminder that maybe a little tempering of the wide swings in my life wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Maybe I could use a little balance.

Because minus that balance, of course, one might rightfully be called cuckoo.

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