Many years ago, a Master Watchmaker had a small shop on the outskirts of town. While he appreciated going to town here and there, he preferred to maintain a respectful distance. He found nothing wrong with the town, per se, he simply wished to not embroil himself in the day-to-day scandals, problems and gossip that living in any town entails. As a result of this desire to maintain a calmness within his mind, he opted to live on the periphery.
From this periphery, he could go deeper into town when needed and then retreat to his sanctuary or, likewise, explore deeper into the wood where he could fully explore the quietude that nature may provide. At times he would need to go through the wood if there was a particular tool or provision he needed that was not to be had in his own town.
One day, it came to pass then that the Master Watchmaker realized that the time had come to find an apprentice. This need had been pressing on him for many months as of late and he finally decided that it was time to find an apprentice that would learn the skills and insights necessary to carry the craft into the future.
The old Watchmaker had been to his town many times throughout the years. He grew and stored a great deal of his own food from his plot, but sometimes there are things that simply cannot be grown in a garden. Over the years, the Master had traveled to his town and others to find the materials of his profession; smelted gold, copper, paints. His tools were given to him by his father but even those well-worn tools needed replacing or repair that he simply was ill-equipped to do.
Because of his many forays into his and neighboring towns, he was well aware of the young boys in town who might make a suitable apprentice. Considering the small population of the town and the rather specialized skill that watch-making represented, the Master Watchmaker knew in his heart that there were precious few lads who would make a good apprentice. Some were too young, some were too old. Some didn’t have the aptitude while others didn’t have the interest. The search for the perfect apprentice was proving to be much more difficult than he had anticipated. When he discovered just how difficult it was to find the perfect mix of aptitude, experience, intelligence and interest in his small town he had a new-found respect for his old master under whom he himself apprenticed so many years ago. And if the watchmaker remembered correctly, his Master didn’t come from his home village either; he also was from a far away hamlet forced to travel to find an apprentice likely for the same reasons the Old Watchmaker was only now discovering.
And so it came to pass that the Old Master left his small and well-worn home to set out and find the next generation of watchmaker. Because he was well aware of the lack of prospects within his own town, he turned toward the dark wood and followed the narrow path that would lead to the nearest town 2 ½ days away. The Master packed a small ruck sack with the essentials he would need for his journey. Because the trip was so short, he would forego bringing much more than some hard tack, jerky, fire making implements and a few small watchmaking tools that were in need of repair. There was no reason to not take the opportunity of such a trip to avail his tools to some much needed repairs. His 64 years of life had imbued in him the wisdom of taking advantage of opportunities either presented or created.
The Master Watchmaker’s trip was uneventful. He had traveled the foot path to the neighboring village many times before. Of course, each journey was different and the path sometimes diverged in new an unexpected ways, but as the Master quickly devoured his jerky on the trail, so was the time devoured for his trip.
As the old man entered the village, he noticed that it was quite similar to his own with only minor variations and deviations from what his own village’s profile. It would appear that as different as the people were in this village from his own home, they really were at their core, the same people. The lives of his neighbors rarely diverged from what he was accustomed to seeing.
Accustomed, that is, until he spied a young boy on the side of the road as he entered the village. As the Master Watchmaker approached the outskirts of the village, he noticed a young boy sitting along the side of the road. At first it appeared the young boy was staring intently merely at the ground, but as the old man approached, he realized that the young boy held something in his hand and was manipulating this object in relation to the ground.
The Master noticed the look on the young boy’s face seemed to be a mixture of concentration, focus, curiosity and discovery all at once. The expression on the young boy’s face caught the Master’s attention immediately. Over the years, the Master had grown so accustomed to the sameness of the inhabitants of the villages surrounding his own, that any divergence from this expectation was noteworthy.
But what was it that captured the interest of the boy so intently? The old man wondered.
The man approached the young boy so quietly that he scarcely made a sound on the soft ground; the old man knew how to move undetected and he did not want to startle the boy as he was a stranger in this part of the country.
As the man approached, he could see finally what the boy was handling with such care in his hands: a convex piece of glass; a lens.
“Hello, young man. What has captured your curiosity so that you screw up your face with such earnest concentration?” asked the Master.
Slightly startled, the boy broke his concentration, looked up and said, “Good Afternoon, sir. It is this piece of glass,” as the boy held the small piece of round glass up for the Master to see.
“I have discovered that with this glass, I may survey the land beneath our feet to very high detail. Once I had discovered its magic, I cannot stop looking at the wide world around me so closely. It has existed right beneath our feet all this time, and yet we never stop to notice just what it is we are stepping on.”
Surprised that the boy was not simply torturing ants or killing worms in the dirt, but rather was exploring, the Master recognized that this young boy was not like the others he had met over the years, he demonstrated intelligent curiosity. Because of this rare find, the Master felt obliged to inform the young boy,
Answering without understanding yet, the boy responded, “no, sir, I did not steal it. I found it along this road. I pass by this road often and, just as often, my gaze is pointed downward on the lookout for anything of interest. It just happens that one day I found something; this lens, as you call it.”
“Just imagine what you’d find had you been looking up?” Responded the Master, smirking at his attempt to expand the young boy’s perspective just a little further.
The boy considered the Master’s statement for a moment, realizing that indeed he might have discovered a great deal more by looking elsewhere. He thought for a moment then responded, “yes, but I found this today. I intend to make the most of my new tool to explore and learn all I can. Perhaps I could use this tool to find yet more items of interest elsewhere?”
“That is indeed quite possible, if your curiosity sustains you. Have you always been so curious?”
“I am not quite sure,” the boy replied. “Is it so unnatural to wonder about such things?”
“Perhaps not unnatural, boy, but definitely rare these days.”
Had the Master Watchmaker found his new apprentice? After so much time, had he found so casually an apprentice worthy of the education ? The Master had to be sure:
“Boy, why are you here alone? Where is your father?”
“My father wishes me to be a farmer just as he is and his father before him. I care not for such a life. My recent acquisition of this lens only hardens my resolve. How can I possibly be contained within the fence of our plot when I have discovered an entire new world merely beneath our feet? What other wonders exist beyond the borders of our town? Now that I know that there is more, I can never return to a life of less.”
“Indeed,” said the Old Master. “One can never un-see what has already been seen.”
With this, the Old Man decided to finally throw the dice and make the boy his offer.
“Boy,” began the Master, “I am a Master Watchmaker. Do you know what that is?”
“Yes,” replied the boy.
“I am away from my hearth in search of an apprentice, in search of somebody to teach the secret of watchmaking. The life of a watchmaker requires great discernment, focus and discipline. While you are still young in your life, I believe that you may have the seed of those attributes; a seed that I might nourish.”
The boy who, until now had been sitting in the dirt looking up at the old man, had gotten a pain in his neck, so he stood up and regarded the old man now more as a near equal, despite his youth. The boy had not yet ascertained just what the old man was offering, so he allowed him to continue.
“If I leave you here, your life would likely run its natural course. Your father would insist that you learn his trade and live the life he intends for you. Because of this, it is unlikely your life would sum to much more than the weight of the potatoes grown in your garden.”
The boy looked down for a moment as he contemplated the Master’s words.
The Master then continued, “Because I see in you that which is required to become a watchmaker, I am offering you the opportunity to learn at my feet the magic of engineering on a scale so grand, it is small.”
The boy’s eyes, now looking up at the old man standing on his own feet, grew wide at the prospect. This morning had decidedly taken an unexpected turn from his expectations as he ate his bread and milk that morning.
“Do you accept my offer?” Asked the Master.
“I do!” The boy said excitedly. “should I return to my home to recover some of my things?”
“No, that is not necessary nor is it advisable.” The Master began. “I will provide you with all that you need and, besides, breaks with tradition such as these are best done abruptly and quickly. It was so with my own apprenticeship with my master and so it shall be with yours.”
And with that, the two turned their back on the boy’s village and the two made their way back to the Master’s home.
After some years as an apprentice to the Master, the boy (a young man now) began to question the value of his apprenticeship. With the years he had spent at the Master’s feet, he was unsure if he had learned all the aspects of watchmaking that he would have expected after so long serving his Master. Because of this doubt, the apprentice became impatient. He had spent nearly four years learning from the Master, but his attempts at building his own mechanisms always failed.
Yes, the apprentice had learned a great deal in the time he had been with the Master, sometimes even to a point that he did not realize exactly how much he had absorbed over the years. The apprentice had learned to cut and shape metal, the principles of stored energy using wound springs, the need for precision and how to extract that precision into his work. But at no point in those years had the apprentice ever actually built a working watch.
Of course, the apprentice had tried on his own, but he was never met with success. He even went so far as to take a watch from the Master’s mantel piece, remove its back plate and copy exactly everything he saw. And yet, the hands refused to move.
Why do I fail when I do exactly as the Master does? The apprentice complained to no one in particular.
Many times, the apprentice would watch his Master disappear into a private workshop and some days later, he would emerge with a new watch made and ready to sell. How did he do this? What secrets were there that the Master had not yet divulged? How much more was there to know?
After the apprentice’s most recent failure to replicate the Master’s work in secret, he finally confronted the Master with his impatience.
“Master, I am a failure, I am no watchmaker. I know there is more to learn, I want more than anything to be a Master Watchmaker as you. Why do you not teach me the secrets of our art?”
The Master had expected this outburst for some time. He knew well the apprentice’s impatience and had seen it growing within his charge. The Master knew that curiosity and drive usually come at the cost of patience.
The Master looked up from his workbench to regard his apprentice with the same patience that the apprentice lacked, but was only buttrussed with the perspective that only multiple lifetimes could impart.
“Your apprenticeship is a life-long commitment. What makes you think you have learned no secrets?” Asked the Master.
“Master, I have tried many times on my own to copy your work in secret. I study the mechanisms carefully, I cut my gears with care, I shape the spindles with mind-numbing focus. In spite of this, I still cannot make the mechanism move on its own. I am a failure.”
“Boy, you are not a failure,” began the Master Watchmaker. “And you are not yet a watchmaker either. You are in the space between and I know well how uncomfortable that place can be. While I am surprised that you have been working in secret, I should not be. Such are those with drive and curiosity.”
The understanding of the Old Master was felt by the apprentice and he was thankful for it. He knew that, with all his complaining, he was still in a safe place, in the company of his small, surrogate family and he was grateful for it.
The Master then decided to relieve the apprentice of his perception of his failure.
“Show me the work that you have done in secret without my knowledge.”
The apprentice then went to a loose floorboard beneath his own small work bench, lifted it up and retrieved a small and well-built, yet motionless, machine. It’s case was rounded and copper colored. Its case was well-shaped and didn’t exhibit any gaps between the cover and the case, but in spite of the fine workmanship of the case, the inner workings refused to budge. He handed the watch to the Master who took it into his hand and regarded it.
“This is fine work, and yet it does not move?”
“It does not, Master. I took your work and copied it perfectly, but I obviously lack your skill and insight”
“You are right on both counts, but that is not why the mechanism is dead.”
With that the apprentice was actually encouraged in spite of his Master’s comment. Was there a secret incantation that that the Master had not yet taught him to give life to the small bauble?
“Why does the watch not move then, Master?”
“Let me show you.”
The Master then turned the Apprentice’s attempt over and cracked open the case to reveal its finely made tiny gears and spindles. He then reached over to a larger golden watch on a shelf behind him that he himself had made some time ago. He turned the larger watch over and cracked open its back to reveal the same finely made gears and spindles. The only difference was that the Master’s watch was a alive with motion and tiny oscillations, its heartbeat measuring out the passage of time in a steady, yet faint, ticking sound.
With that, the Master laid both examples on the bench next to each other, one dead and one alive.
“Do you see the difference, boy?”
“No, Master. I do not. I fashioned my work exactly as yours.”
“You are correct that your example is a perfect and fine copy of my work, that you can see.”
“Master? I don’t understand.”
“No, of course not, for you believe that all that you see within my mechanism is all there is. You failed to account for the gears, spindles and springs that you cannot see.”
“You are my apprentice. As my apprentice it is my responsibility to teach you all there is to know about the science and art of fine watchmaking. You have learned much over these four years with me. Your skills are finely honed; you have fulfilled every hope I had for you when I first found you as a boy. However, the success that you have had in so short a time is not wholly yours. We both share in your success because of my own methods in showing you the secrets of the art. First we crawl, then we walk, then we run.”
“But Master, am I not as gifted and talented to merit running now?”
“You are gifted and you are talented, but all things come in time. Did I not teach you to cut gears before I taught you to place them on their spindle?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Do you then understand that, had I taught you to place a gear on its spindle before you knew what a spindle was, you would not have understood the value of the lesson? Because of this, I had to present to you the information you needed at the proper time and in the proper order that you needed it.”
“Yes, Master. I understand.”
“You are my apprentice and I will never hide information from you; only delay it. The source of your impatience in the art is that you believed you knew all there was to know about our profession and yet, it appeared you still had not progressed. I would put to you that your premise was based on a false assumption. I am merely relieving you of that assumption and reminding you that, as special as you are, you still have much to learn and I have yet more to show you. Perhaps now that you know that the mystery of our art is much deeper than even you have plumbed, you may find patience in this. There remains so much more to learn.”