Young Man Overcomes Illness by Learning Skills From a Near Dead Art

After Reuben Schoots contracted a series of wasting tropical illnesses while on an eight-month backpacking trip through Latin America, he found himself with nothing but time on his hands.

The 27-year-old Canberra man dropped 35 pounds from his formerly lean, athletic frame and was so weak he could barely make it out of bed. In pretty much constant pain, Schoots became addicted to opiates. He lost his barista job and eventually, stopped pursuing his course of study in nutrition at university.

Schoots conceded that life as he’d known it was over. Even though he knew he’d have to chart a different course, the depression he was mired in had left him rudderless—until the day something small piqued his attention and led to an epiphany that would change his life.

A friend who’d come to visit was wearing a mechanical glass-backed watch; its movement visible. Schoots was fascinated by the synchronicity of all the tiny parts working together that made it run.

Although watchmaking had never been a pursuit, he realized not only was it something he could attempt during his recovery, it was something that truly appealed to him.

“I really wanted to be doing something with my hands, making,” Schoots told ABC Canberra, “but I didn’t realize that’s what I wanted to do until I actually became sick and everything that I was doing or had was stripped away.”

Besides being “time-consuming,” the 200-something-year art of watchmaking (horology) is tremendously precise. Schoots dove headlong into the study, apprenticing himself to the techniques of posthumous master watchmaker George Daniels, a man famed for his stunning, handmade creations.

Schoots says he’s aware of only two other watchmakers besides himself who have completed a timepiece made to Daniels’ specifications. It’s a process of trial and error; of making and remaking; a process that in many ways, mirrors Schoots’ remaking of his entire life.

He’s also come to understand how his own experience might serve as a positive example to those struggling with pandemic-related loneliness and adversity.

“I think that a lot of people are feeling very negative and don’t like this isolation, or this time to yourself. Change hurts,” he said. “But they undervalue—or underestimate the value of—downtime and I think people are scared to be with themselves. Evolution comes out of downtime.”

2,500 hours into his project, Schoots is just two pieces shy of completing his first 100-percent handmade watch. The work isn’t physically taxing, but it requires focus and concentration.

While Schoots often has to rest, he appreciates the steady course this new version of his life is taking because, with patience and perseverance, he’s got every reason to believe time will be on his side.