Betty is 82 years-old and developing dementia. The clock that hangs on the wall of her room kept dropping its minute hand so I fixed it for her. Now the hands stay on but the time is off, sometimes by hours. Helen is 85 and lives down the hall from Betty. Her battery-operated clock is the centerpiece of a plaque that commemorates her years of service to the state. First the hands were getting stuck on each other. Then the battery died. Then the clock wouldn’t run even with a fully charged battery.
I’ve observed that as people approach the end of their lives, the more problems they have with their clocks. The hands fall off or get bent, they don’t get wound, the chimes don’t match the time, the internal mechanisms break, or they just fall off the wall. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that two tests used to evaluate people for dementia relate to time. In one, the person is asked to draw the face of a clock from memory. In the other the individual is asked to give the current time, date, and year.
Our measurement of time is a man-made thing, a social convention. The divisions of a day into 24 hours, an hour into 60 minutes, and a minute into 60 seconds are arbitrary. We could have a 13 hour day, a 59 minute hour, and a 38 second minute if we wanted to. Thus, our ability to speak the conventional language of time can be a barometer of our rootedness in consensual reality.
As the soul pushes for recognition and expression in later life, worldly structures and social conventions begin to fall away. Life is lived more at the level of feelings, formative memories, and the unfinished business and unresolved longings of the soul. Religious, psychological, and spiritual issues push for recognition and resolution. They may be dealt with consciously, or acted out unconsciously, as if in a dream. Like a melting clock in a Salvador Dali picture, societal and conventional knowledge turns from solid to liquid and begins to fall away. We say these people have lost touch with reality when they are actually becoming reflective of a more raw and fundamental reality.
The chronology of man, and of the ego, bow before the chronology of the soul.