Almost daily, I read the news and I quickly lose faith in humanity. I wonder if there ever has been or ever will be a world full of compassion and kindness, empathy and acceptance, and just beauty, arts, and love.
Yesterday I was walking through Montreal on a beautiful sunny day, in the middle of the city near Rue Saint Catherine and at the stroke of 5pm, I heard bells ringing. I took off my headphones and listened. It wasn’t just a short song and five gongs to punctuate the time, but it was an entire song, at least 7 minutes long. A beautiful, ear pleasing melody that filled the air and beckoned all to pause for a moment and simply enjoy.
I looked around. We obliged. Strangers in a city, some native, some visiting like me, stopped and listened. I saw smiling. I saw eyes closed, drinking in the song. I saw people looking around to find the source. There was a reverence for this that brought us together for a few moments only the way that art has the power to do.
And beyond being a lovely way to start my walk to Old Port and Old Montreal on this glorious day, it gave me hope. At some point in the shameful, violent history of our people, someone had an idea of ringing bells from a building in a city. Of playing a song. I imagine how that might have gone. I wonder what kind of resistance this frivolous, unnecessary, costly idea was met with. And then I think that someone rich and powerful agreed. Someone decided that riches were nothing at all unless there was beauty in the world.
When I was growing up I marveled at the generosity of the rich and powerful. They way they created public spaces both indoor and outdoor for the regular people to enjoy. Museums, parks, libraries, heck, public schools were started by affluent women. It was a point of pride for the rich to give back and make their communities better, perhaps by ego, or perhaps, less cynically, by an honest desire to do good. My favorite place in the world is Acadia National Park in Maine, built on Rockefeller’s largesse. Were these titans good and altruistic all the time? Of course not. But they left their mark on the world by doing what we all should do, make it a little better for as many people as possible before we go.
Today, I see the majority of the rich and powerful as greedy…as, what’s in it for me…as, lying, cheating, and power hungry without any honor or decency. Sure there are exceptions who are legitimately using their wealth and power to change the world, but so, so many don’t. And we seem okay with that as a society, as a country. There’s an attitude of “I earned it and it’s all mine” that sort of breaks my heart.
Money, while convenient, is a silly thing to chase and hoard when you only get 80 years to live and breathe on our earth (if you’re lucky). Doing good should be part of our existence and, all too often, it’s not.
But, when I heard the bells, I was reminded that there are people who value beauty and arts and spreading what’s best about our collective humanity. So many, really. There was a person in Montreal who pitched an idea for bells that play a song for whomever happens to be walking by to spread joy. And, that, makes my heart happy…and hopeful.