Monday, May 13, 2013

Ultrarunning and the Logic of Church Bells

One of the great things about running is it gives you time to think. The hypnosis of seemingly infinite steps provides an opportunity to ponder. Chewing up the miles allows one to masticate on some of life’s more perplexing problems. I’d even go as far as asserting that ultrarunners on the whole have greater insight, clarity and perspective on life than non-runners, and in particular, that genetically related species called “marathoners.”

Or so I thought…

You see, I’m come upon a conundrum that even after multiple long runs I have been unable to solve. The logic of church bells.

It started when I moved to Rome. At first I thought the bells I could hear at night were both charming and practical. Charming in the sense that they contributed greatly to the ambiance of living in old Rome. Practical in that while I slept, some part of my brain kept track of the time – loud dongs for the hour, soft chimes for the quarter hour. No need for an alarm clock since the bells I could hear, “my bells” if you will, called out the time with regularity and precision.

"My Bells" Church of Santa Maria - 12th Century
If only it could have stayed that way…

One morning the air was heavy with rain. There was a light breeze from a new direction. My windows were open to enjoy the smell of spring. I was sipping on an espresso anticipating an enjoyable and productive day. Then it happened! Perhaps I was mistaken. No, it couldn’t really be. Yet it was true, I heard different bells. These were not my bells! Instead of a lingering donggg.. These bells had a punctuated dang. The bells announcing the quarter hour rang at a faster pace. These were definitely not my bells. These new bells unsettled me.

"The Other Bells" Church of San Crisogono

Then the questions started racing through my head…

You see, I like to know how things work. I crave understanding the hidden dynamics that lead to why things are the way they are. Once I started down the slippery slope of asking “bell” questions, I became a victim of causal sequence. The clarity in my life was about to end. It was an avalaunche of questions cascading through my frontal lobe. Mental arrhythmia.

"More Bells"
Voices in my head were yelling at me, “Who decides how loud a church bell can be? Do neighboring churches have “turf wars” over volume and tone? If one church installs a louder bell is a neighboring church compelled to upgrade its bell? Is there some inter-faith agency in the model of the UN that establishes guidelines for bells, and if necessary mediates bell disputes? Is there a master “bell plan” that dictates bell decibels and type? Do we the as the “bell listeners” have any say in the types of bells that permeate our lives? Has a priest or a pastor even been fired for neglecting the quality of a church’s bells? Is a priest or pastor more employable if they have “kicked some bell ass” in a previous position? Is there a “bell race” taking place and I don’t know it? Are the manufacturers of bells fueling this “bell race” by designing bells that ring louder or are perhaps tonally distinct?  Where do the old bells that get replaced go? What is the MTBF (mean time between failures) for church bells?  Are there acoustical engineers specializing in church bells? And perhaps most importantly, Do we really need church bells?

It was if all the bells in Rome were ringing in my head. I was confused. I was overwhelmed. I needed to run.
So after many miles of pondering the logic of church bells I have no answers. Is it a problem too big for my small mind to solve? Perhaps. Is it a mystery that evades humankind? Maybe. Could it be a problem best resolved by those of the Christian faith? Doubtful.  The questions I cannot answer exponentially multiply. These damn bells are haunting me. My magic mental elixir of running seems to have failed me. All these f’n bells are messing with my mind – and my running! 



Aaron Spurlock said...

Do the bells, when rung, create frequencies of resonation that, when combined with the bells of another church, comingle into mega-frequencies which just might cause one's head to kerplode? Probably.

Vanessa said...

COWBELL: The only bell that matters.