Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Ringing Cracked Bells

It doesn't matter how cool you are, when you work with a group of college students, and you are old enough to be the mother of any one of them, there are bound to be a few generational gaps that leave you scratching your head in befuddlement. It didn't happen that often to me, but occasionally it would, and for a short time, I worked with a cute little Cajun student who loved to clue me in when I had left the conversation and my mind was wandering off in left field. She would say "Ding, ding, ding, earth calling Mrs. Annie" and I would snap back to attention. She loved to ring the bell at my inattentiveness.

At summer camp, the ringing of the bell orders our entire day. We always have a designated "bell-ringer" who is responsible for ringing the bell on time for each event. Otherwise, we would have teachers letting their girls go five minutes early and disrupting another class as they gallop by on their way to being first in line for lunch. Oddly enough, that inequity does not sit well with hot and sweaty girls who are stuck with the teacher who keeps them sitting still for the entire 35 minutes of class. So we ring the bell, and life proceeds in a (somewhat) orderly procession.

I want to be a bell ringer. Not necessarily the kind of bell ringer who sounds her bell to make pretty music and spread joy. I want to be the more practical kind of bell ringer, one who calls attention to things that might be missed, the one whose tolls signify transition, or movement to a different activity. I want to be the kind of bell ringer who stays in the background, the kind who rings the bell like an alarm, calling others to look at this, or to stop and think.

But lately it seems this bell ringer has gotten caught up in the fact that she does not make beautiful music like some bell ringers do, that she is practical and (maybe) useful, but not exactly melodious. She feels imperfect. She feels broken. And sometimes, when that happens, she falls silent. There are bells that call her to silence, and bells that call her to stop and pray. There are bells that call her to action. And then there are bells that call her to stop and think. Can't you hear them?...Ding, ding, ding...

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
It's how the light gets in.

Leonard Cohen
-from "Anthem" (1992)


  1. well, this is my 4th attempt at posting a comment, blogger must be really bad today.......Annie you are my bell ringer.....:) in many ways. And I don't think that bells always need to sound the way we think they should (pretty)...like everything else we become accustomed to hearing things in a certain way, and having that different sound may put something on our radar that needs to be there.
    I love Leonard Cohen.........funny you should quote him..........

  2. hooray........it posted......not bad only been trying since 10:30 this morning!! 5 hours......that's about right.....

  3. I think you ring the right bells around here. But, not trying to freak you out or anything, but this is the second time I've seen that quote today. What the heck are the odds on that???

  4. You made me think of Poe's poem "The Bells" -- but then I got to the poem you quoted and liked it better! Your observation and writing continues to grow -- you are a joy to read!

  5. Ayekah Glad you finally made it though before you popped a cork! Yep, maybe that is it, that we need to hear things in a different way, to get our attention.

    jules I have to admit, I saw the quote on a blog I read regularly, but I have never commented on and that is not on the link list of my blog. Wonder what the odds are that you read that blog? (She is a youngish photographer in Dallas.)

    I have to admit I am not familiar with Leonard Cohen. I had taken the bell picture when I visited the camp, and had been thinking about the general premises of this post when I came across the quote and it all fell together from there.

    Linda Glad you liked the poem and were able to read the rest of it. I'm glad you are around these here parts!


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