The evening we moved to Leverett from the city was a cloudless one. As we turned onto the road where our new, old house waited for us, carillon bells began to peal. My husband looked at the clean white clapboard church through the window of our moving van. “I never dreamed our escape could be so painless,” said he.
It wasn’t really an escape. We were simply making a common trade: we were leaving a busy, two-income life in a tiny city apartment for a slower, gentler life in the country. And although neither of us was particularly religious, the chiming of the church felt like a blessing.
The church bells, we soon learned, rang out every night at 6 pm. They were one element that would remain the same in a life whose structure soon began to shift from month to month. There was a market crash, and a scramble for employment. There was a first child, and then a second. And there was construction – endless, crazy-making construction. For a week or two we had nothing but a tarp for a roof, and the bells sounded a lot louder than usual.
I liked to imagine that some ancient artisan in a leather apron was hammering out those bell songs in the steeple. In fact, the Leverett carillon is digital – a CD, a stereo, and some powerful speakers. But I didn’t know that (or so much else) at the time. And at any rate, it was as steadfast and as reliable as if it were keeping the time for a medieval village.
Every night the unhurried sound of old hymns came drifting to our house. Sometimes we noticed them, sometimes we didn’t. Whether it was a late bright summer evening or a cold, dark winter evening, the bells rang out just the same.
Dinner was always on its way to the table or almost there. As the notes resounded overhead, I would hustle through the last stages of prep. And sometimes I was too busy, cleaning up spills or rooting furiously through the vegetable drawer for parsley to hear them at all.
But most often it would happen while I was standing at the grill. The smoke rose up blue and lazy as I tested a skirt steak for doneness with my fingertip. In my other hand I held a cold beer. The day’s last clouds followed the sun in its westward descent over the pond. As pleasant as the moment was, it seemed as though I was waiting for something.
And then, after all, it came – as welcome as the crack of an egg, as the clink of ice, as the sizzle and pop of thick-sliced bacon. Long, slow peals fell upon the smoke-laden air as the Leverett bells began to sound.
This, I thought, is life. This, I thought, is peace. The notes will fade, the meal will disappear. Like music and like food, our own lives last only a moment. But what a moment! The ordinary peace of waking life is not a silent peace. It’s full of sound and flavor, full of light and heat. Surely even the plainest hour is worth some celebration – even if it’s only marked by the pouring of a drink, the lifting of a fork, the ringing of a bell.