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As the trees lose their leaves each winter, sound travels farther in my neighborhood, bringing me news more clearly from up and down the street.

In cold months, the bells of the parish church ring with a clarity that makes me feel they’re chiming just for me. I hear much better, too, the police cars and ambulances as they head to places more troubled than mine. One day last month, as winter was working through its final days, the church bells and siren sounded at the same time, leaving me to wonder just how to feel.

I had stepped out for a walk, wanting to escape for a while the grim TV news. The evening was brisk but pleasant, a hint that Easter wasn’t too far away. Two blocks into my stroll, a neighbor waved from his driveway, and we stopped to chat at the odd social distance that’s now become routine, poised like soldiers shouting across the 38th parallel.

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He asked about my health, and we each counted ourselves lucky to be faring well. Earlier that week, he’d gone to a funeral. A couple had come down with COVID-19, and the husband hadn’t made it.

I offered my condolences and continued down the street, thinking how odd it was that I’d left my house to avoid bad news and found it instead a few doors away. The headlines sometimes throw a shadow that can seem too far to outrun.

As I was mulling this over and rounding another block, the church bells and an ambulance raised their voices all at once. I kept walking, a lump rising in my throat, my eyes gone moist.

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Even now, I’m not quite sure why what I heard had touched me so. Maybe the call of the siren and the steeple spoke to me of what we’ve been living through in this pandemic time — the constant cry of crisis, yet along with it, the summons to some higher calm above the fray. This Easter, with vaccines, we’re happily turning the corner.

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Slowly, the wail of the ambulance receded as it continued its mission of mercy. The siren had startled me, though it pointed to some underlying continuity in a broken season. Someone was hurt or sick, and someone else was speeding to help. Those helpers are what’s gotten us through.

With the siren now too faint to hear, I was left to listen as the church bells finished their holy music and put the day to bed.

The days grow longer now, the trees greener, their canopies shrouding me once more within the more private urgencies of spring. This month, I’m more likely to hear neither an ambulance nor a church bell, but the blustering anthem of Briggs & Stratton as lawn mowers and leaf blowers swarm nearby.

That, too, can sound like hope this Easter. A world exhausted by a trying winter has bravely stirred to life.


Email Danny Heitman at danny@dannyheitman.com.