Once a metronome hypnotized itself. Over time, the rhythms it had settled into offered a reassuring steadiness in the face of all the metronome observed going on around it, from rampant excess to the most lethargic of crawls through life. In either case, or so it struck the metronome, the yielding of a steady will to tempos beyond those it knew and trusted betrayed an equal unsteadiness of character in letting chance and circumstance hold sway. A surrender of the self to every quiver of experience and thus to whatever its lure might bring was the unsettling peril in such lax behavior. But if you could keep your head about you and not be swayed by passion or slowed by doubt, if you were proof against impulse and kept to the givens of a regulated life, then what could distract you? Even the final winding down must find you self-mastered to the end. Existence was a continual test of how well one resisted impulse and the confusion of momentary fancies with the steadiness of eternal truths. Balance, symmetry, harmony, the shunning of extremes for a continual return to the middle, these were the unmistakable features of a wisdom that would guide one through any challenge or dilemma. Proportion in all things was the metronome’s guiding philosophy and its constant reassurance. Whenever the hint of an irregularity in life or a departure from the expected presented itself, therefore, the metronome took pains to do a complete check of its internal workings, noting the least catch or waver in predictable conduct and correcting any aberration without delay. Were it not to do so, not to take this rectifying action as soon as the need for it became clear, as soon as even the suspicion of an inconstant will suggested itself, who could say what the ultimate consequences might be? Just as largo yields to lento and adagio slips by narrowing degrees all the way to prestissimo, the control needed for a worthy existence might slide away into risky penchants, hardly noticeable at first but soon marking undeniable departures from the norm, then wilder and wilder yearnings, as though desire were taken as the measure of full being rather than simply the manic sway of the unknown, until all threatened to be lost in utter abandon and collapse. Plenty of metronomes had ended their days as hopeless wrecks by yielding to these temptations, hadn’t they, victims of their own inner failings and the erratic behavior these brought on, shunned by all who hoped to retain some sense of their own constancy in an uncertain world? One could understand in principle how such things happen, how the clockwork of a life that had long been familiar and trusted never to fail might one day simply begin to fall apart, but willingly to embrace what must hasten that end—who was so unwise as to court such a fate deliberately? Keeping yourself in proper working order, the metronome was convinced, was the only way to guarantee that what befell others never befell you. Predictability and restraint were the keys, always. Not too far one way and not too far the other. To and fro, to and fro, back and forth, back and forth, until the pull of anything beyond this set regularity faded, lost its power to distract, and you were safe in yourself. To and fro. To and fro. Back and for-th. Bac-k an-d f-o-r-t-h.
Copyright © 2009 by Geoffrey Grosshans