DR. CUMMINGS: My grandfather’s clock

December 8, 2013 

“My grandfather’s clock was too large for the shelf,

So it stood 90 years on the floor.

Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock.”

This song was written in 1876 by Henry Clay Work, the author of “Marching Through Georgia,” and was made popular by bluegrass bands and again by the Robert Shaw Chorale. It’s the story of our lives.

I have that clock in my study standing right behind me as I write these words and I can hear the steady beat: tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock. Today, all of our clocks and watches are silent but not this one; its muted beat never stops, never wavers, never grows weak or silent. It just keeps on ticking until one day -- for me -- it will:

“Stop, never to go again,

When the old man died.”

Makes you think, doesn’t it? Well, it sure makes me think. Makes me think about what in the world I’m thinking about all day long. Makes me wonder if I’m spending each tick-tock in a worthwhile way or if I’m just frittering away my time thinking about useless stuff. One day that clock will stop for me and it will stop for you, too. So what do we think about?

“We are what we think.” That’s what the great Buddha said. “All that we are -- arises from our thoughts.” That’s pretty scary. Do you think that’s true? Do you believe that all of us become the kind of people we are because we “thought about it?” If I think kind, charitable thoughts, will I become like George Youmans and give constantly to the poor? If I think ugly, defensive thoughts, will I become like Adolf Hitler and rationalize even murderous behavior?

If I begin now to think about becoming a leader in my job or club or church or home, can I actually become one? Can I determine my future by regulating my thoughts? Is my mind that powerful that I can change the course of my life by concentrating on a particular focus? Many great authors say, “yes.” And it makes sense, doesn’t it?

Football games are won because the members of a team “think about winning.” There’s a famous phrase that says: “If I think I’ll win or if I think I’ll lose, I will.” How many of us watched the end of last week’s game between the No. 1 team, Alabama, and No. 4, Auburn? Alabama should have won -- everybody knew that. In the last seconds of the game, Alabama lined up to kick the winning field goal. But the kick went short and an Auburn player caught it standing beneath the goal posts, and he ran 100-plus yards for the winning touchdown. There was no doubt in his mind that he could do that. He had thought about it the whole time the kick was in the air.

And I think Henry Clay Work was thinking about this when he wrote his famous poem, “My Grandfather’s Clock.” He had just written about Sherman’s march to Savannah in his powerful song, “Marching Thru Georgia,” and on June 25, he read about Custer’s last stand in the Battle of Little Bighorn against the Indians led by Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. Henry Clay Work knew all about life and death. But now he began to think about what comes in between.

Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock.

Dr. Bill Cummings is the CEO of Cummings Consolidated Corporation and Cummings Management Consultants. His website is digitallydrc.com.

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