Oh what will you give me?
Say the sad bells of Rhymney.
Is there hope for the future?
Cry the brown bells of Merthyr.
Who made the mine owner?
Say the black bells of Rhondda.
And who robbed the miner?
Cry the grim bells of Blaena.
Even God is uneasy,
Say the moist bells of Swansea.
And what will you give me?
Say the sad bells of Rhymney.
~ Idris Davies, Bells of Rhymney
In these harsh times, my thoughts turn to seeking the sense of what is seen. Of course, I want to know. And quite naturally the immediate fills my sights. But the undisciplined eye sees limits at all hands. More is asked of fewer that remain standing in recession economies. In my still-young working life, I’m well-familiar with the conscious gratitude of walking and working among the employed- seemingly defying the odds. “To whom much is given, much is required,” is a biblical text often in my thoughts. But there must be more than simply punching a time-card. This has always been clear to me, though opportunities are rare or often drowned out by thoughts of what may have already been missed. Another fine reason to self-berate; another action producing no results.
Looking beyond self-confinement breaks out of drawn limitations. And it becomes necessary to be sensitized to perspectives that my own notions have not considered. Perhaps for post-moderns, a “career” is defined by what has been eclectically assembled- more than the old-fashioned multiple-decades at one company that sees an individual move up through ranks. We find our own ways to redeem the time. Given some morsels of earned time off, I go on pilgrimages. If it’s just a day, there are excursions that present refreshing changes of scenery and new points of view for my learning. Within these verbal exchanges and visible vistas, there are messages for me to derive. Countless times, over the years, conversing with friends has provided that vital forum for commiserating and stock-taking. Listening to others’ approaches to their situations subtly reminds me of how the voyage cannot prosper without kindred souls. It may be akin to the accord of dulcet chimes, or to the impact of tower bells. With some conscious focus, I become able to hear what is needed. My antidotes to dead ends are continuity and refinement of vision.
Lately in my journals, the question, “what is real?” has provided a good writing exercise. The year and this decade are concluding, and the question permits for some retrospective along with forward-looking thought. What sense- and what nonsense- have I been carrying along among the cargo? From within sounds a percussive alert- a reality check. It is a questioning of what unfolds immediately before the ship’s prow, and whether my intended course has been faithfully maintained.
Sources of reality checks can be as simple as posing questions that reconsider how things have always been done. Or, for that matter, experience causes reconsidering attitudes toward people, ideas, even institutions. There can be surprises- from anywhere between offices and street-corners. On all sides, so long as there is breath, it is never too late to revise points of view. One might imagine that all it takes to maintain openness of heart and mind is plenty of solitary contemplation. Not quite. And not without some varied activity, either. With no means of reality check and balance, an intense inner life lends too well to detrimental isolation. My favorite windows let in fresh air and light, as well as offering an outward view from inside. When my writing runs short of words and ideas, I realize how much I need to look outside of my own resources. Words and ideas replenish with reading and observing. And I am thankful for my bolder friends, whose pointers can burst my bubbles of self-absorption. This idea of exercising a broad view came to mind yesterday as I used a wide-angle lens on my camera. A 28-millimeter lens encompasses both ground and sky.
Awareness of perspective is no more than a sensitization. There continue to be times when I am called to navigate through darkness, At times, it is a plain yet pressing heavy-heartedness that disrupts my sleep. Hard times and closed ends, convincingly insurmountable, may be more permanent than previously thought. Or perhaps it is better to accept my inability to figuring everything out. Nights of the soul and long walks that are needed to be able to see and to sense can be means by which new understandings are reached. In a spirit of sincere inquiry, darkness reveals as much as light. Strolling past rows of decorated houses, along icy streets, I wondered how far my steps have drifted from the truths I’ve been pursuing. If I truly believe the words, then I “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world,” then I must be convinced I am not at the end of my road.
Turning my steps away from unappealing avenues of bitterness, music returns to my thoughts. So many tunes and words committed to memory reappear and remind. My hope now is for sharper focus- toward compassion and away from entrapments of the mind’s realm. There is a music of hopefulness, and this occurred to me while listening to vespers last week, and later during performances of folk music I hadn’t heard in years. The tones, twists, and lyrics conveyed life-giving ingredients. That which gives life is able to re-ground, encourage, and offer new vision. As a sounding bell from within, signaled turning-points are identified.
Following a mid-day service, several days ago at King’s Chapel, I asked to see the bell up close. The sexton simply opened a very narrow wooden door, after seeing me off at the organ loft. With deliberate care, I ascended the ancient series of ladder-like steps, all the way up through the bell tower above this 17th century Boston church. Standing astride the massive bell, signed by its maker Paul Revere, I thought of how such an instrument rang to alarm and warn, along with a history of ringing out in festive celebration. From the tower’s snowy louvers, the sight of busy Tremont Street below had me wondering about how the scenery has changed through the centuries. Perception can alter one’s sense of reality. Leaving the ready and quietly-nestled bell, I slowly descended through the building and then out to Beacon Street. The bell’s resounding gift to me was neither foreboding tocsin nor weekly Sunday chimes: its silent steadfast witness had spoken to my soul.