Sunday, August 16, 2015

Red Dots and Resets

I have a new thing for old clocks.  Heirloom clocks have been part of my family's history for a long time, and a Seth Thomas 8 day mantle clock that belonged to my parents is one of my prized possessions.  But, while I love the old manual-wind pendulum clocks, my new thing is vintage electric clocks.  Recently I have bought two such clocks, one a 1950s Seth Thomas and the other an early 1930s Warren Telechron cathedral style, pictured here.  Both of these clocks, like thousands of others built with Telechron motors during the middle 20th century, featured a "red dot indicating device" the function of which actually is the inspiration for my thoughts in this post.

In between the periods when people wound all their clocks and when reliable batteries and quartz movements became available, electric clocks with Telechron motors were all the rage.  Developed by Henry Warren, these motors synchronized with the alternating current coming from power plants to keep accurate time.  Unfortunately, early power plants were less reliable than we are accustomed to today, and power interruptions were not unusual.  Today we know when the electricity has gone off because the dozen or so digital clock displays in our homes blink 00:00, but in those days you might not know that the clock had stopped for 20 minutes and then resumed.

Enter the red dot.  If power was interrupted, the red dot would appear, alerting the owner to check the correct time through some other reliable means and reset the clock to the correct time.  Upon resetting, the red dot would go off.  Cool, huh?

Sometimes I feel like that slightly slow-running clock.  I'm not keeping time like I used to, but I don't really notice.  Then something will happen to remind me, to make me conscious that what appears to be my normal life actually is lagging and in need of a reset. 

I find that ritual often has the effect of bringing me this kind of self-awareness.  Ritual, whether centered in religious practice, or social or family traditions, reminds us of how things are supposed to be and how we want to be.  In and of itself ritual may not put us right, but it alerts us to the truth that some putting right is needed.  And sometimes, probably most times, ritual reaffirms our belief that we are, in fact, keeping good time.

This weekend I experienced my first "Catch the Fire" ceremony at Fontbonne University.  This welcoming initiation celebrates the history of the university's founders and sponsors, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondolet, invites new students to join our community, and challenges all of us to emulate their boldness and determination in serving the world.  For me, it was a red dot moment.  It was an opportunity to remember that no matter how many power interruptions there may be or how many minutes (or hours!) I might lose, there is no end to the number of times a clock may be reset.