Listen for the Bells
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”
Till, ringing singing, on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!
Yesterday morning, sick with a migraine, I had to stay home from church. I started to feel sorry for myself, something I’ve been prone to with all of the health woes this semester. Then I thought about my favorite professor, one of the dearest people in the world, and the much worse health problems he is battling. I thought of some of the hard-working people I know who get over-looked or under-appreciated, and of some of the people with power whom I know, who deal with stress that completely dwarfs my own. I thought about how kind they have all been to me, and about the daily encouragement I receive from them.
I started baking. For the entire day, I ignored the migraine and stayed on my feet, until the entire kitchen and dining room were covered with warm, fragrant cookies. Although the pain and nausea never left, I didn’t seem to feel as much of them. I focused on the people I was baking for and felt very, very blessed. In the back of my mind, I thought I heard a faint chiming.
Today, loaded down with an enormous box full of bags of fresh cookies, I played elf, going from office to office. I delivered cookies to all of my coworkers and professors, as well as a few deserving people who work in stressful offices. Nothing is quite as much fun as surprising frequently-overlooked and under-appreciated people with yummy baked goods. I got some hugs, a few cheers, lots of surprised looks, and lots of smiles. That’s really one of the best parts of the holiday season: when you give something to someone, thereby letting them know that they matter enough to be thought of. The bells are beautiful then, unlike any earthly music.
It’s amazing just how many deserving people get taken for granted, even people with the big offices and their own secretaries. I guess everyone just assumes that they know their own worth. I know that I often do. Maybe people don’t think about it at all. Maybe a mass-mailed e-card seems like enough. Somehow, though, nothing brings quite the twinkle and smile that cookies or handmade gifts do.
It takes time to make things, a lot more time than it takes to fill a shopping cart. Especially now that online shopping makes it so much faster. You can sit, and you’re comfortable, and your feet don’t hurt. You don’t burn your fingers, and there’s no mess to clean up afterwards. The bells don’t seem to ring as loudly, though. Sometimes they don’t ring at all. I guess most people would say the bells don’t really matter; after all, only the giver can usually hear them. And you can’t keep them, or wear them, or replay them over and over. They’re old-fashioned, maybe even corny. Sappy and sentimental, surely. But they are so beautiful . . .
The whole time you make a gift, you think of the one you’re giving it to. A little bit of love goes into that stitch, or that paint-stroke, or that cookie batter. You’re thinking about them, not yourself. That’s a foreign concept today; I think some people would even laugh about it. What do you really get out of making things? Sore feet, sore back, burned fingers and palms, headache, a bit of sweat. It takes time; time is valuable. Time is ours; it ought to be spent on the things most important to us. Oughtn’t it?
Last year I spent that time feeling sorry for myself, and I never heard a single bell. I missed those bells, but I was too busy with me to notice. A funny thing happened; the more I thought about my misery, the more miserable I felt. Misery loves fertile ground to grow and thrive in. Sometimes it generously invites its friends: regret, sorrow, bitterness, jealousy . . .
This year, I decided to spend the time better. I spent it remembering the hearty “good morning” that greets me every day, the offer of help when the copier gets stubborn, the concern when I don’t feel well, the explanation of how to write the book review better next time. I spent time thinking about the helpful advice, the phone call that straightened out my student account, the joke that lightened a stressful day. People spent their time on me; yesterday I remembered. I gave back a little bit of time. The migraine made it cost more, but, for once, I spent it anyway.
And yesterday and today, I heard the bells.
On behalf of Lantern Hollow Press, I’d like to wish all of you the merriest of Christmases. And I sincerely hope that somewhere amidst the piles of gift-wrapping, the pies baking, the shouting relatives, and the Christmas chaos, you can hear the bells, too.
Posted on December 25, 2011, in History, Holidays, Stephanie Thompson and tagged bells, Christmas, Christmas bells, giving, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, Longfellow, spirit of Christmas, Stephanie Thompson. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.