Riffling through my small box of family memories, I came across a folded clipping that said my grandfather’s grandfather was appointed the postmaster of a small town in Michigan in 1905. A crinkled scrap of paper accompanied the newspaper with a note written in an unfamiliar hand: His was a secular duty but he found the pealing of the bell a very real link with God.

I know so little about this man aside from one piece of family lore: his daily four-mile walk began to tire him out as he grew older, so he asked the mayor to install a bench at the halfway point between his fishery and the bar. There he would stop each evening to rest and read the day’s paper.

My grandfather’s grandfather lived through the 1918 pandemic, and I wish I could talk with him about it. Did he meet it with acceptance or anxiety in his corner of the world? Did the virus breed conspiracy and delusion like it’s doing today? Picking up the crinkled note again, I began to wonder about his soul. What did he believe? And who was the author of this oddly formal message written on graph paper? What compelled this person to describe my great-great-grandfather’s spiritual relationship with the “pealing of the bell”? I wonder if there will be a pealing of the bell for me.

Arvo Pärt – Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten for Strings and One Bell

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