Opinion Wellbeing and Family

If the Bells Tolled

In medieval times, the death knell was born. It was a tolling of bells at the time someone died for the purpose of chasing away evil spirits. Over the years, the practice continued as a town notice. Traditionally, the bell would toll six times if a woman died or nine times if a man died, followed by the number of years since birth.

Imagine for a moment the cacophony if we announced death this way in modern times. Much more during pandemic.

I think John Donne may have had it right. You can read his full sermon here, but I’ll extract bits.

Yes, I said sermon. I think Mr. Donne never dreamed his words would be hacked up and forced to exist as a poem.

He wrote Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, meditation XVII, in 1624 when afflicted with spotted fever. The sermon is entitled, “Now this bell tolling softly for another, says to me, thou must die.”

The sermon begins:

“Perchance he for whom the bell tolls may be so ill that he knows not it tolls for him. And perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me, and see my state, may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that.”

Mr. Donne writes of catholicism and protestantism in England at a time of unrest. He writes of the biblical principle of the interconnectedness of humankind. That we are all one body, as it were. He writes while terribly ill. He writes these familiar words for which few remember the man:

“No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

Imagine if every person took the view that every death diminished themselves. How much would change? How easily could we make available access to care? How readily could we employ palliative care? How freeing would it be to wear a mask, if wearing one prevented even a single diminishing death?

What would you do if you were, as Mr. Donne wrote, involved with mankind? What would I?

Since Covid-19 began, three members of my extended family have died. One from Covid-19. One from old age. One from aggressive cancer. I have attended no funerals and visited no homes.

I come from a funeral people. My grandmother took me to funerals for community people I didn’t even know. It was a matter of honoring the dead and comforting the living. There were potluck meals, cakes and pies delivered to houses, and visitation at the local funeral home. All the more within our sprawling family. And then my father became a funeral director when I was a teen.

I am, you might say, acquainted with death.

And while the death knell was not a part of my growing up, it feels a part of my growing older.

My uncle died yesterday. The bells ought to have tolled. As I’ve arranged these sentences, someone’s someone died. The bells ought to have tolled. My ears itch for the tolling, the recognition, the brutally inconvenient truth of loss.


That’s the number of Covid-19 related deaths to date. It’s a number that does not account for the aged, those afflicted with any other malady, preventable incidents, or malicious acts.

And the bells don’t toll.

The cash registers ring. The politicians scream. The thermometer sounds its all-clear.

But maybe if we heard the bells, even one ring for each life lost, it would change our behaviors and attitudes. Maybe if the bells made it impossible to ignore the death so many have endured and others still freshly grieve, maybe we would shore up our continent, our main. Maybe bells would remind us that we are involved with mankind.

And maybe no one would ask for whom the bells toll, because we’d feel a bit of ourselves slip away as the bells spoke to us.

Wellbeing and Family

The In-pen-ity Gauntlet & Good Gifting

You may have heard that some of the population was up for gifts this Sunday. I am among that number, and while I got a cache of tremendously affecting treasures, this one begs to be shared. It’s for the writer in your life. It’s called the in-pen-ity gauntlet!

Now what happens when I snap? No one can quite say. With any luck, I’ll snap coronavirus off the face of the earth. If only…

Gifting is a strange and glorious thing living under the coronavirus regime. Do you order something? Gift some treasure of your own? Make something? Whatever the item, it feels giddy and extravagant amid our new hunter-gatherer society to receive (or give) a gift.

Now, someone tried to give me a stranger’s pandemic popcorn, and I just…no. But my mom brought my family scones one day. Another day my parents brought staples (not the metal kind but the food kind) and set them in the box on our porch. We’ve had a birthday parade complete with a paper airplane shot from a car with a homemade crossbow. The neighbors put a full-garage sign up for Third’s big day. I’ve received the gift of office attire for my new job that I do at home presently.

But today, amid some things that I won’t share here, I received this good and perfect gift from Middling. Where, you may ask, did he find the leather? Welp. He harvested that from a whole piece we’ve had in the garage for years. I almost can’t blame him. The button? No idea. The pens were already mine, though the purple one looks a mite chewed by the puppy.

It’s a gift that took thought and effort and sacrifice and ingenuity. It’s a treasure.

I hope you treasure something today. I hope you find new things to treasure and to give as treasures.

Oh, and watch for the benevolent snap to come…

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