Archive for Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Bells ring for freedom

November 16, 2011

It was midnight in Amsterdam. A full moon reflected off the canal flowing under our window, where we sat listening to the ringing of the bells. We had that day walked the cobblestone streets of the town; it was a walk that took us to the Anne Frank house.

We walked around inside the empty building; it felt cold and austere. The bookcase at the bottom of the stairs was pushed away and we climbed the well-worn wooden steps to the attic, where Anne Frank wrote her diary. The tree she wrote about was outside the window just as she described it.

The rooms were small and cold. Though I expected to feel the presence of the former residents, there was nothing — only emptiness and coldness that penetrated one’s interior. We didn’t say much on that tour. We walked back to our rooms along the canal, noticing the worn surface of the cobblestones, which were marked by the boots of the Nazis during the war.

We stopped at a corner where the yellow, five-pointed Star of David commemorated the Jews taken from that city and a triangle commemorated the gays taken to the camps. It was one street corner, compelling in its simplicity, yet so striking in its appearance.

And everywhere there were bells. I asked a resident about the bells. He told me that during the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam, the bells were removed and melted for ammunition. Amsterdam was bathed in silence; the bells stilled by war.

He said residents vowed that when the war was over, the bells would be replaced and would never be silenced again; that the sound of freedom would waft over the city, across the canals, as far north as the tulip fields. He told the story with pride and tears.

It will be a full moon soon here in Kansas. We used to hear the bells here — church bells mostly. My brother was a bell ringer when we were kids. At the Methodist church were the bells that called us to service every Sunday. As an adult, I used to listen to the bells ring out from the Christian church — a gift of the family of Eleanor March, a longtime school teacher in this community.

It will be a full moon soon here in Kansas. Where are the bells? Where is the sound of freedom cascading across the prairie, resounding through the river valley, calling us to prayer and thanksgiving for our freedom?

One of the church bells is in a garden, behind glass. A school bell is in a private yard seen by few. Where are our bells, our stars, our triangles reminding us of the price of war, the cost of freedom?

It is midnight in Kansas. I want to sit in a window, under the full moon and hear the bells ring out across the prairies of Kansas and reach the tulip fields of Holland; the sound of freedom.

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