Columnists

Listening To The Bells

The bells ring more or less all the time here.

My husband, Peter, and I are in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, a city filled with old churches. Every old church has at least a couple of old bells, and all the bells are rung frequently. Since there is so much I do not understand when I travel to another country, I assumed that the bells rang according to some sort of system that everyone else understood and I did not. (This is an assumption I’ve made about a lot of things over the course of my life, but that’s another story.)

As it turns out, none of the English speakers in town have any idea what is going on with the bells.

“I thought it was military time because it rang more than 12 times,” someone said. “But then it rang 34 times!”

“There is no rhyme or reason,” someone replied. “They don’t ring on the hour and they don’t ring any number of times that makes sense!”

“Well, they are all rung by people,” someone else added. “It’s not automated. Maybe they just ring them when they feel like it?”

So now I’m listening to the bells.

I was right in the center of town, near the largest, oldest church, when the bells started. “One… Two… Three… Four.” They stopped. I checked the time on my phone. It was exactly 4 o’clock.

“Well!”

Now I’m thinking the bells are just rung to get our attention. Maybe we would pay more attention to them if we knew they were right all the time.

The roosters in town operate on a similar principle. Every town in Mexico I have ever spent a night in has had multiple roosters alerting me to the first hint of sunrise. But at our temporary home here, we have one who has decided to up his game. He lets us know that it is 4 o’clock in the morning and that sunrise is only a couple hours off, in case we were interested.

None of the other roosters are following his lead. I suspect the other roosters think this guy is a showoff, crowing his head off in the dark. But he keeps it up. It gets our attention, and I guess that is the point. He’s letting us know that he is keeping track of the time. It’s not morning yet, but morning is on the way.

We have lots of ways to keep track of time and, honestly, I’m not sure why it is so important that the bells ring at any particular time. Peter and I are not meeting anyone at a given time. We have no appointments to keep. This idea that we need to keep track of time is a little odd, given the circumstances.

And yet, nearly every day, Peter or I will say, “Can you believe it’s 2 o’clock already?” as if 2 o’clock had some special significance. As if we had something special we had to prepare for at 3 o’clock.

I am rather pessimistic that I will ever solve the mystery of the bells. I think they will keep ringing when I least expect, at odd intervals, for an indeterminate amount of time. But every time they ring, I will be reminded of the time—even if it’s not the actual time. Even if I have nowhere to go.

They’ll remind me that time is passing and will pass. They remind me that sometimes the very best thing I can do with my limited time is to stop whatever I’m doing and listen to the bells.

Till next time,

Carrie

Carrie Classon’s memoir is called “Blue Yarn.” Learn more at CarrieClasson.com.