Ring the Bell

Mom hands me a box with a gold and silver curiosity inside. We stand together on a Japanese hillside 32 autumns ago, ex-pats in a land my family calls home for longer than we intend. She speaks through frosty breath on a misty morning, a glimmer of sun glints behind her. I feel her anticipation and pay attention. "Ring the bell, Mariah. The sun is almost up." 

The remembrance is like a dream. I was 15. Mom was 7 years younger then than I am today. It will be 25 years before the slow crawl of dementia makes its way through the grooves and fissures of her brain. Her memory keen. Her thoughts deep. She has a blessing to bestow.

I don't realize she is going to go into full-blown priestess mode; I just know her gift for speaking with the Spirit. Sometimes I listen in. Given that we are dressed in our Sunday best on a Saturday morning watching the sunrise, I should have guessed. But Mormons are weird, proud, in fact, to be a peculiar people, and I am accustomed to our weirdness. She says, "I gift you this bell as an instrument with a blessing. That when you hear it, or any other chime, the sound will bring you back to yourself. It will serve as a remembrance: to get quiet and listen. That it will ring out warning or peace, sadness or celebration, whatever the moment may require. And that you will honor those feelings for at least one clear moment a day."

One clear moment a day...I wonder if she remembers the bell. Or the day she gifted me such a fairytale blessing. I ponder how to ask if she remembers. Saying, "Don't you remember?" is a particular unkindness to someone with Alzheimer's. I begin with this, instead. "Mama, I wrote a story today. About a time we went to ring in a new day at sunrise; you and I..."

"I'm glad you have that memory. I don't anymore. It's such a sweet story."

Her words ring in my ears. A year ago, she would have told the story herself. Six months ago, she'd have grasped and struggled to draw out the details; reconnect them to her limbs, her words, her embodied experience. Now, her clear moment is found in surrender. I'm struck. She only listens. A peaceful priestess. Still teaching me.

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