Saturday, January 15, 2011

One Week.

I realized this week that what happened a week ago in Tucson hit me viscerally, perhaps more intensely than seems fitting. I could say it's because I have the tiniest connection to one of the victims, because I do but it was fleeting and I don't think that's the core of why I was hit so hard.

Before Christmas, one street away from us, an 8 month old girl was shaken to death by her dad.

Almost 2 weeks ago, a gunman caused the mall less than 2 miles from my house to be put on lock-down, held hostages in a fast food restaurant, and the surrendered to the dozens of police, FBI, and SWAT Team members who had infiltrated the neighborhood.

And then, there was last week. And this whole week all the media in Arizona is covering is the story. They're covering the details of the gunman's life. The run-down of the day's events. The tragedies and lives lost. And the heroes who stepped up.

I've been sad and mad and just generally somber. And then I opened today's paper, and saw this article, and I was so touched I wanted to share it. I hope next week I can somewhat return to 'normal' and post about things other than this. And in that spirit, I am marking a week's passage by sharing:

Simple bells lift heavy hearts amid tragedy in Tucson

The Arizona Republic

Outside the Safeway scene of so much sorrow, the people of Tucson left us a message on Thursday.

Hundreds of handmade bells, hanging from the paloverde trees and in the bushes and on the shopping-cart racks in the parking lot.

As cleaners in blue jumpsuits with green rubber gloves worked to scrub away the physical traces of last Saturday's tragedy, citizens offered a response to the mental anguish, wounds not so easily washed away.

They hung bells.

It's a tradition of sorts in Tucson. Twice a year, the wind chimes randomly appear around town, dangling from trees and tied onto fences. Ben's Bells, they are called, for a little boy named Ben who died suddenly in his mother's arms on Good Friday 2002. He was 2 years old.

The darkness and the pain that followed . . . well, there aren't any words for what a parent goes through at a time such as that. The healing, for Jeannette Maré and her husband, Dean Packard, began with kindness. Simple acts like a stranger opening a door or lending a shoulder.

"We were walking around looking like ordinary people on the outside when we were just dying on the inside, and anytime anybody would do an act of kindness for us - the smallest little show of connection like eye contact or a smile or being let into traffic or anything - was just kind of miraculously healing," Maré says. "I literally felt like I needed to die, and then somebody would do an act like that and I knew in that moment, at least in that moment, that I could survive."

Maré began making the wind chimes in her backyard pottery studio after Ben's death, fashioning beads and clay ornaments, painting them and lashing them to little brass bells. It was something those who grieved for Ben could do, something that would both honor his memory and help others suffering in ways unseen.

They hung 400 bells around Tucson on the first anniversary of Ben's death, attaching a tag to each one. "Take it home," it says, "hang it and remember to spread kindness."

Since then, the bells have been hung twice a year in Tucson, and in places where tragedy has struck - in New York on the anniversary of 9/11, in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and in Hermosillo, after a day-care fire killed 44 children. Now, tragedy has struck at home.

All week long, Tucson residents have flocked to the pottery studio on University Boulevard, the one where Ben's Bells are made. It's open year-round to anyone who wants to come and paint and be a part of spreading one simple yet profound message: Be kind.

At dawn Thursday, hundreds spread out across Tucson, hanging the bells - 1,406 of them, all Maré had. They hung them in parks and at schools, on street signs and in desert washes, at University Medical Center and at the Safeway.

"We hang this bell in memory of those who died, to honor all of those who were injured and for all of us who live in and love this community," says the tag, which also carries the message to take the bell home.

All over Tucson, the stories started pouring in from those who found Ben's Bells on Thursday. From a teacher who found one outside her school, from a mourner who spotted one outside a church. From Bernadette, who saw a bell and burst into tears, and from Janet, who came upon one along the Rillito River Park. "The discovery shined a light through the sorrow and defeat which has been surrounding me," she wrote. "Much of that negative energy has floated away today. What a blessing."

There is power in the message sounded by the bells - that it is intentional kindness and small connections, not grand gestures, that build communities and sustain them in times such as these. Something as simple as leaving a bell or finding one can lift a heavy heart and for the moment, in Tucson, that is a start. Maré says her city will never get over what happened here and that, she says, is a good thing.

"It changes you. It becomes part of the fabric of who you are as an individual and the culture of your community. So I hope we don't get over it. I hope that this changes us forever."

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Sharon said...

This made me cry. Thank you for sharing. I love Ben's Bells. They are a huge deal in Tucson, and I love what they stand for. I first heard about them not too long after I moved to Tucson. Ben's Bells are hung around town once a week in the very early morning hours in locations of someone (of some people) who have shown acts of kindness.

It is a wonderful, beautiful tradition here. I love it so much. I am so glad to hear they did this. Such a touching way to show love and support in regards to what happened last Saturday.

TMH256 said...

I'm with you Katie. So with you.


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