Ringing In My Head


I can’t get them out of my head.  The last time I wrote, it was about bells.  Mr. Longfellow heard them.  I thought I was listening too.

Joy to all people.  All is well.

Lesson learned.  Can we move on now?

My young friend blew in from the dreary, damp world yesterday.  I asked her cheerfully how her day was going.  The anguished look in her eyes was enough to let me know I had touched a sore spot with those few words.

“Oh.  Please don’t ask me to answer that question.”

She always smiles.  Not that day.  It was as if the door was slammed shut on her feelings.  I have learned to leave those doors alone.

I apologized and helped her find what she needed.  As she headed for the exit, briefly, a window opened up to her emotions and she mentioned how hard Christmas will be this year with her mom gone.  Tears glistened in her eyes as she turned to go out the door.  Mine too.

The bells hanging on the door knob jangled rudely as the door shut behind her.

Bells!  What is it with the bells?

Addison came with her mom today.  Her mom washes our windows once a month to make sure we can see out and customers can see in.  Four years ago, we became good friends, Addison and I.  She came every time her mom did and we visited.  A lot.  She brought me flowers.  I gave her candy.

But, little girls grow up and go to school.

“I’m too busy to come most times now.  You’ll just have to get used to seeing me once in awhile.  Okay?”

Today, while her mom washed windows, Addison and I talked.  Well, Addison talked.  I listened.  After awhile, she asked her mom to unlock the car so she could get something to show me.

I wondered what it could be.  You already know what it was.

Yep.  A bell.

A single little brass bell to hang on her Christmas tree.  She shook it proudly.  Again and again.

And again.

I like Addison.  I was glad when she left with her bell.

I wonder.  Did I really learn the lesson of the bells?

What was I missing?

Ah well.  It would come to me.  Or not.

I sat in my easy chair tonight and dozed off by the fire.  Warm and comfortable, nothing would bother me in my cozy den.

My sleep was filled with the sound of–yeah, you knew it was coming–bells.  While I slept, the antiques program the Lovely Lady was watching on the television had ended and a holiday concert by a bell choir began.

I slept as long as I could and finally brought myself to wakefulness, grumpy and almost angry.  Stupid bells!

Stupid bells!

I reached for the remote, but something stopped me.

The music was beautiful.

Bell choirs are amazing cooperative efforts in which no one takes a front seat and every single ringer is absolutely essential to the process.  From the tiniest of tinkly high notes, all the way down to the huge bass bell, nearly two feet across at the throat of the brass dome, each one plays its part.

At exactly the right time, the different bells sound, manipulated by different people, both male and female.  Entrances have to be perfect; cutoffs, precise.  No one carries the entire melody; no individual person is relegated to the rhythm part.  Every single bell counts.

I overcame my grumpiness and frustration to listen to the astounding music.  Beautiful songs.

Old familiar carols.

Bells.  Playing old familiar carols.  Who knew?

You’re humming the song aren’t you?  (“I heard the bells on Christmas day, their old familiar carols play…”).

I listened to the breathtaking music and my uneasiness grew again.  Something was wrong.  Unfinished business.  No, that wasn’t it.  You know how it is when you know you’re missing something, but you can’t quite put your finger on it?

And then I saw her.  Playing the bells. There!

No. Not on the television.  In my mind.

My Mom.  She loved the bells.  She wasn’t all that good at them; coming in on the wrong beat here; letting the tone ring in the air too long there.  No matter.  She loved playing with the bell choir.  I can see her now, sitting with the bells on the table in front of her, watching the music and the director like a hawk ready to attack, counting the beats.  She is desperately hoping that she comes in at the right place, but laughing at herself when she doesn’t.

Beautiful bells.

The tears come again as I write.  I listened tonight to that bell choir and wiped the tears then too.

Mom doesn’t play the bells anymore.  She doesn’t remember who I am.  She doesn’t know who my father, her husband of sixty years, is.  She is lost in the fog of dementia and, as I have been (and was earlier tonight), is angry.  Angry and lost.

I miss my Mom.

And still the bells ring–of peace on earth and good will to man.  Their tones pure and clear, they ring out.  Oblivious to our moods, our battles, our disasters, they ring out.  Parents die or are lost to us.  Children grow up and away from us.  Still, the bells ring their message.

Peace on earth.  Good will to man.


I thought I had learned the lesson.

Perhaps this is why Christmas comes around again every year.  Lessons are forgotten.  Situations change.  Old habits are taken up again.

We need to be reminded.

A Savior came to earth.  To save us.  To teach us.  To change our hearts.

Is there still sadness?  Death?  Poverty?  War?  The answer is still yes.

But the day is coming. . .

I’ll wait.  And while I wait?

I’ll keep listening to the bells, Mr. Longfellow.



“He will swallow up death forever!  The Sovereign Lord will wipe away all tears.”
(Isaiah 25:8a ~ NLT)


“The time draws near the birth of Christ;
The moon is hid; the night is still;
The Christmas bells from hill to hill
Answer each other in the mist.”
(from The Eve of Christmas ~ Alfred, Lord Tennyson ~ English poet ~ 1809-1892)



© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2014. All Rights Reserved.

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