escapement

By Jesse Turri

1320 A.D.

Brother Ferdinand had been in the sanctuary since before daybreak, and the church was dark except for three flickering white candles. He enjoyed listening to the liquid flowing steadily into the vertical tank outside, the rising water levels keeping the time and displaying the planets as it ticked away. Soon he would hear the bells chime and his brothers would join him in the church. “Our life is set by the bells,” he would often say to the townsfolk when they asked; “ It’s God calling us to pray.” Brother Ferdinand loved the sound of the monk’s voices joined together in unison, reciting the Psalms. “The voice of God sounds like this,” he thought, “people praying together.”

Ferdinand gently breathed in and exhaled softly, whispering the words “Lord, open my lips and my mouth shall proclaim you praise,” over and over to himself. His calm presence, although notable, was not unlike the demeanor of his Benedictine brothers. After all, their monastic lives were drenched in a type of silence that only few could ever know. Their days were enveloped in a stillness that was spent listening for the voice of God. For Ferdinand, every breath was a sweet and gentle prayer.

The Benedictine life was a uniquely ordered and regimented one. The Regula Benedicti had been the guide for monastic living since St. Benedict of Nursia first penned his precepts all those years ago. They could be summed up simply with the motto “ora et labora,” pray and work. Every act the monks performed, every menial task they undertook, was a humble service to God.

Brother Ferdinand began each day extremely early, waking before dawn and making his way to the sanctuary by 6:25 am, when morning prayer would commence. This typically lasted for an hour and was followed immediately by breakfast at 7:30, which was eaten in complete silence. The monks would then begin their work at 8 am. Duties varied widely depending on skill sets, but the Abbot did his best to rotate them between those in the monastery. Some of the daily chores included: washing, cooking, raising the necessary supplies of vegetables and grain, reaping, sowing, ploughing, binding and thatching, haymaking and threshing, producing wine, ale and honey and providing medical care for the community. Monks in Brother Ferdinand’s abbey also provided education for boys and novices and spent long hours copying the manuscripts of classical authors.

When lunchtime rolled around the monks could relax a bit. Typically, after 15 minutes of individual contemplative prayer, it was customary for one monk to read out loud from a book–two recent selections included Journey of the Mind into God, by St. Bonaventure, and The Travels of Marco Polo by Rustichello da Pisa.

It wasn’t until 1:00 o’clock or so when Brother Ferdinand could find the time to work on his personal project, which he enthusiastically delighted in.

Different monks practiced different crafts. Some were painters, some were woodcarvers, some were metal workers. Brother Ferdinand was a clockmaker, a very special clockmaker. In fact, his invention would indeed change the world.

“It’s called the escapement,” Ferdinand explained to the monks standing around his work table, “It’s a mechanism that makes this clock very different from the water clocks we currently use.”

“Tell me more Brother Ferdinand,” implored Abbot Urias with one eyebrow raised. He was intrigued by the new invention of this cenobitic monk and the possibilities it could bring to their devotional lives.

“Well, the escapement ticks in a steady rhythm and allows the gears to move forward in a series of little equal jumps.” Ferdinand pointed to a horizontal bar at the top of the clock with weights on either end of it. “This is called the foliot, and the vertical rod it sits on is the verge.” Ferdinand explained that the verge nudged the foliot back and forth in an inertial rhythm that determined the pace of the gear train.

Brother Ferdinand, smiling a soft warm smile, looked up at Abbott Urias, whom he greatly admired, and said “with any luck Abbot, this clock will provide us with even more precise regularity when observing our daily  devotions.”

Abbot Urias nodded and placed his hand on the faithful monk’s shoulder and said, “The Lord would be greatly pleased Brother. Greatly pleased.”

2013 A.D.

Philip opened his desk drawer, removed the hammer from underneath a stack of manilla folders and placed it on his desk in front of the computer keyboard. He then swiveled in his chair and gazed out the window of his tenth floor office. Philip sighed at the gray sky outside and pushed back in his chair, attempting to slide away from his desk. He had to rock back and forth a few times, however, because his wheels were sunk into the ruts in the carpet–ruts, which were the result of 26,880 hours of sitting in the same, stationary position.

Phillip hated those ruts.

Phillip hated lots of things about his life. He hated looking in the mirror and seeing his asymmetrical face stare back at him, his large crooked nose mocking him endlessly. He hated that nose. He also hated his car with its squeaky brakes and streaky windshield wipers which, he had just realized this morning, was two days overdue for state inspection. He hated that car. He hated his closet, filled with clothes that his wife had bought him due to his vehement aversion to shopping. The collared plaid and striped shirts, the sweaters he never wore–he hated those clothes. He hated the fact that his brain functioned in such a way that deep, lasting, vivid memories were only created during unusually novel experiences. Phillip’s days were exactly the same–Monday completely indistinguishable from Wednesday. Phillip, sadly, could not remember what he did on Monday. His days blurred together like an overexposed photograph. He hated that endless, redundant routine of his.

Through it all, however, there was one thing that Phillip hated more than anything else in the world: the ticking of the clock. He heard the ticking everywhere he went, it never stopped. It penetrated his brain like corrosive acid, slowly eating him alive.  It was the ticking that he blamed for most of his troubles, and no matter what he did, Philip could not escape that endless, rhythmic reminder that his life was slipping away, one tick at a time.

There were days, however, that Philip remembered from his childhood, which were not ruled by the clock. Those days did not begin with the beep of a digital alarm, but by birds gradually beginning to twitter and the sun softly shining through his window–exactly how it might have been in a medieval village, he imagined. He missed those days. He longed for those times when the awareness of natural cycles played a greater role in his awareness of temporality. Surely things still changed back then–the sun rose and the sun set, the days past one by one–but the change was “softer,” less precisely calculable, and it somehow seemed to be intimately tied to a more fluid and large-scale sense of rhythm.

Philip reached into his pants pocket and removed a small, golden pocket watch–the old kind with the chain that English Gentlemen would sport in their vests, along with a top hat and cane. He clicked the watch open, and smiled as he watched the second hand make it’s way around the clock face. The Patek Philippe, Swiss made pocket watch was a gift given to Philip as a child by his father, just before he had died. At one time in his life, this particular pocket watch was very special to Philip.

As he examined the watch Philip began to reflect on how this invention was not merely a way to keep track of hours, as he had once naively thought. Philip understood now that this piece of technology held within it a dark secret. This clock, with its infernal ticking, had become a means of synchronizing  and controlling the actions of men. As Philip thought about these things, his fond smile turned into a scowl, anger and rage filled his heart and his eyes squinted with disdain.

At that moment, a female office colleague walked past Philip’s door, disturbing his deep thoughts. The girl smiled pleasantly at him as she past. Philip did not return the smile, but stared blankly at her and condescendingly chuckled to himself. Philip knew that most people–people like her–were blind to the fact that they were slaves to the capitalist ideas of methodical production, regular working hours, and “standardization,” all of which were made possible by the tick of the mechanical clock.

It was true, the chronometer he now held in his hand, which was once so dear, he no longer deemed as special. In fact, he now thought it to be purely demonic.

Philip breathed in a deep breath and decided it was time to get on with it. He placed the gold watch on his desk and picked up the hammer. Philip raised the tool above his head, and with no delay, lowered the hammer with a swift, forceful swing, smashing the expensive gold watch into pieces.

BANG!

The jarring, terrifying noise shattered the stillness of the tenth floor office suite. To the unsuspecting office workers, the booming noise sounded like a small explosion.

BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG!

Philip smashed the timepiece repeatedly and forcefully, his aggression and adrenaline growing with each booming collision.

Before anyone in the office could gather their wits and determine that it was indeed Philip’s office which was the source of the loud disturbance, Philip hurled the hammer through his office window, smashing the glass. He took three steps toward the window and crawled out onto the ledge. That’s when he heard a female voice shriek his name. Philip turned his head toward the sound and there, standing in office doorway, was the girl who had walked past and smiled at him.

“What are you doing?!?” she yelled frantically. Philip thought he sensed genuine concern in her voice for a second, but decided that it was most likely just incomprehensible terror coming through.

The next sequence of events seemed to take place in slow motion, as if time itself had stopped.

Philip, his hands covering his ears and tears welling in his eyes, shook his head maniacally from side to side, as if attempting to escape a horribly cacophonous sound. Then, with the last shred of strength left in his being, Philip looked at the girl and said in a woeful, quaking, delusional hiss, “I have to escape the ticking.”

Before the girl could react to his last-minute, veiled cry for help, Philip turned his back on her and jumped to his death.