Babble – The Hourglass


When I was married, we honeymooned at a bed-and-breakfast on the edge of the Ganaraska.  The owner of the house considered herself a fortune teller and at breakfast she took my hand to read my palm.  She looked at it only briefly.  “You have two life lines,” she said dismissively, then promptly lost interest.

That idea would not come up again for twenty years.  Then one night over dinner with friends, a charming retired man broke away from the conversation and leaned towards me.  “We get to live more than one life, you know,” he said.  I must have shot him a wary look because he shook his head immediately.  “Not reincarnation,” he said in earnest, “I mean lives within this life.  You realize that as you get older.  In my first life, I was the editor of a busy newspaper.  Now, I play in half a dozen bands.  I liked that other life, sure, but when I look back now, it feels like I was a completely different person.”

The notion of a re-start on life was about to seize my imagination.  Around the same time, a friend was bringing family to live with her in Canada after years of being apart.  We spoke about it often and I was in open awe of the courage they must have to leave a comfortable life in their homeland for a new life full of potential with no guarantees.  I was content with my own life.  Still, I could not shake the question of whether, even so, there might be a better way to live.

I was living then in Millbrook’s former St. Andrew’s United Church.  It was a special place to call home, not only for its beauty but for the wonderfully inexplicable things that would happen there on an almost-daily basis.  From music that would belt out of the stereo with just the right lyric at just the right time to objects that would appear obligingly where none had been before to serendipitous encounters with benevolent strangers in the yard – if not our own living room – occurrences like these would happen with a frequency that by far exceeded statistical significance.  Finally, even my lawyerly left brain had to admit it:  we were not alone.  We had help.

As Christmas approached, it seemed wherever I turned in the church I was seeing hints about the possibility of a fresh start.  A pop-up window would appear on my computer screen periodically with a hand slowly tipping an hourglass to start over.  A magazine on the kitchen table would be left conspicuously open to a page with an hourglass running out of sand.  From the stereo, a pesky little song posed the question over and over:  “I ask of you, is it time to re-do?”

Finally, annoyed by these seeming nudges, I made a pact with myself:  if I found an hourglass in my Christmas shopping, I would buy it for myself, turn it over on New Year’s Day, and see what all this fuss about a re-start was about.

I was in Lindsay picking up last-minute gifts at a home decorating store where the lineup snaked to the back of the shop.  With resignation, I took up my place at the end of the line and then realized that I was standing beside a long wooden table entirely covered in hourglasses.  There had to be about fifty of them.  Remembering my promise but not being one to pamper myself, I picked up the smallest.  It was a brass hourglass no bigger than an egg timer.  But it seemed to lack weight for its intended purpose — both physically and metaphorically — so I put it back down.  That’s when I saw it at the back of the table:  a large dark hourglass of gothic proportions, filled with glittering black volcanic sand.  It captured my interest and I bought it for myself.

When I got back to the church, I wrapped the hourglass gingerly with Christmas paper and tucked it far beneath the tree.  On Christmas morning, I unwrapped it without fanfare and put it high on a bedroom shelf for safekeeping.  New Year’s Eve came and the church was filled with family and friends.  There was a balloon drop.  Children showed off their talents.  There was dancing.  The mood was festive and enthusiastic, but on top of that, I felt anticipation:  I was going to turn the hourglass the next day and I had no idea what to expect.

On New Year’s Day after the last of our out-of-town guests had gone home, I excused myself from my family, took the hourglass from its shelf and carried it upstairs to the sanctuary.  Confetti, balloons and streamers still decorated the floor.  I sat cross-legged on what used to be the altar, facing the triplicate stained glass window at the front of the church, and raised the hourglass high over my head with both hands.  I had no idea what I was doing.  Scriptless, I decided to go for broke and silently invited a re-do on everything, and everyone, in my life that was not in my highest and best interest.  Then I added a footnote, to no one in particular — all available help, please — turned the hourglass over and slammed it down hard at my feet.

Of course, nothing happened.  The triplicate window did not explode in an iridescent shattering of coloured glass and no chorus of angels appeared spontaneously on the mezzanine to serenade me with song.  I felt somewhat disappointed.  But as over the next twelve months I watched almost everything in my life unravel, I had no doubt that I was getting nothing more, and nothing less, than I had asked for.  It was like a personal apocalypse of the most well-meaning kind.  And throughout it all, a new song played reassuringly, “Everything will be just fine … when the dust clears, you’ll have everything you’ve been looking for.”

Not many artifacts of my former life have survived.  My arsenal today consists mainly of two beautiful children, a law degree and my sense of humour, all bolstered by steadfast relationships with family, community and friends.  I feel like a single mom MacGyver:  ready to face whatever comes next with my own personal take on his paper clip, birthday candle and duct tape.

I keep the hourglass as a souvenir.  It sits high on a shelf in our living room and my kids ask to play with it sometimes. I tell them kindly but emphatically, “No,” that it is not a toy and is only to be turned over if they ever find themselves looking for a re-do.

By Anita Odessa

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