Observations: Ringing church bells

Published on: August 26, 2015


In the morning, I had breakfast with my wife in South Hillsborough. By that evening, I was having dinner with my brother, Mike, and his wife, his boys and his new grandson Elliott in their new home in rural Northern Minnesota. A miracle, right? Mitch Traphagen photo.

In the morning, I had breakfast with my wife in South Hillsborough. By that evening, I was having dinner with my brother, Mike, and his wife, his boys and his new grandson Elliott in their new home in rural Northern Minnesota. A miracle, right? Mitch Traphagen photo.

Ginny’s father proposed to her mother while rowing a boat across a lake. A farm was on that lake, a farm that would be a wedding present to Ginny’s mother. On the day they married, just as they stepped out of the church, church bells began ringing across the entire small town — in a happy coincidence with the good wishes of their wedding guests, World War I had just ended.

Few if any people reading this will know Ginny and certainly not her parents, but that serendipitous moment — so happy and so joyous on so many levels — is still enough to put a smile on anyone’s face. A bride and groom emerge from a church to friends cheering their marriage and a nation in jubilation over the end of the Great War.

Do church bells ever ring across town anymore? Were things more simple and, thus happiness easier to find, back in 1918? I’m starting to wonder if all of our advancements aren’t somehow hindering our happiness. Or, perhaps, it’s just some of us hindering our own happiness.

On Wednesday morning, I woke up in Tampa and had a quick breakfast with my wife before heading out to the airport. By that evening, I was at my brother’s new “retirement” home — a beautiful country home in northern, rural Minnesota, in time for dinner. Later that night, we watched incredible streaks through the dark night sky during the Perseid meteor shower.

My brother is hardly retired — he’s not yet 60 and stays busier than some people half his age. But he had the opportunity to retire from his life-long teaching career and purchased a home on a small lake within miles of two of his three sons and one of his two new grandchildren.

His home is also only miles from the lake upon which Ginny’s mother said yes to marriage and a life together for what became forever on that farm.

While the church bell story seems so wonderful, happy and miraculous, her parents could not possibly have imagined back then the miracles taken for granted today — that I could have accomplished crossing the nation in mere hours, having breakfast on one end and dinner on another.

The reality is that we live in miraculous times, although the miracles tend to be different from those of nearly a century ago. And while what we can do today is miraculous by any definition in the entire span of time and humanity, it is mostly, but not always, miraculous for people of means. And I’m not entirely sure every miracle is a blessing.

This is the most connected generation in the history of humanity, yet we seem to be starving for real human connection. A computer screen is no substitute for human touch and interaction.

On my Southwest Airlines flight to Minneapolis, the flight attendant ad-libbed the FAA announcement, stating the required information but supplementing it with a good bit of humor. At one point, after a very mildly crude comment about not lining up near the cockpit for the forward restroom, the passengers broke out in laughter when he added, “Yeah, that’s right. You’re not flying Delta.”

At the end, the entire plane applauded him. Who even listens to pre-flight announcements anymore? On that plane they did — perhaps not for the information provided as much as for the humanity given. Plus, it was humanity in what many see as an increasingly de-humanizing industry.

On my return flight, an early middle-aged woman with sparkling eyes sat in the middle seat while I was seated in the aisle. She was interested in everything. I pulled out a music magazine that I picked up at a friend’s house. She asked if she could see it, paged through it and then politely asked if she could tear off a corner of a single page that provided the magazine’s web address. She carefully tucked it away.

Moments later, a man in the row ahead of us held up a Wall Street Journal that he had finished reading. I nudged the sparkling-eyed woman to bring it to her attention and she immediately said, “Yes, please! I love to read it!” and snatched it out of the man’s hand. She read through it page by page.

Sometime later in the flight, an older woman across the aisle asked, with a charming French accent, if she could borrow a pen to mark up a textbook — I noticed it was on fashion design. The woman next to me also noticed the textbook and leaned her entire body across mine to fire off questions and listen to answers from the woman, who turned out to be a professor of fashion design.

That she was nearly lying on me might be considered a violation of personal space by some, particularly in reading. But it wasn’t. The woman had such integrity in her interest, such humanity, that it wasn’t a violation at all. I had to hold back laughing — not a common thing involving air travel these days. It was just a human moment.

And I think increasingly we lack those moments — and I also think that we are not the better for that.

Over this past weekend, a photograph from Hernando County went viral. It seems a man in the northern part of the Tampa Bay area suffered a heart attack while mowing his lawn. Both paramedics and fire fighters responded, and while the paramedics rushed off to save his life, the firefighters from “Truck 2” remained behind and finished mowing his lawn. A simple gesture of humanity at its finest.

Life might be so much more complicated today but being human is still really simple. No, it wasn’t the end of a world war but personally, I think that a church bell or two could have rung for those firefighters and those who saved the man’s life.

P.S. On a related note, I would like to personally thank everyone who made a donation in response to an article last week on Observer News writer Kevin Brady’s wife suffering from terminal cancer, and a family friend’s effort to provide Leeann Brady with a small measure of comfort in creating the foundation for a college fund for the couple’s son. I know times are difficult these days and money is tight for so many. In such cases, I believe, thoughts and prayers are an excellent substitute for cash. The campaign is still active on gofundme and can be reached at