Dawn Arrington: I Hear the Bells

I believe that you only get one shot at life. I don’t believe that folks come back from the brink of death or that there is even an afterlife. Of course I could be wrong, and some days I really hope I am.

It’s on days like the one I experienced with Justin, that I sincerely hope that I am absolutely wrong.

It was the day I attended my second-ever fish fry, at Benedictine High School located on MLK Jr. Blvd.

Established in 1927 by the Benedictine Monks at St. Andrew’s Abby, Benedictine High School is a Roman Catholic all boy’s high school located just 5 minutes walking distance from my front door.

I suppose there was always an air of mystery surrounding the school for me. When we first moved into our home the cafeteria was our local voting location, but for reasons unknown – and unasked – the location switched to the local rec center just a bit down the road. So before the fish fry excursions I had been in the building once, maybe twice.

The first time I went to the Lenten fish fry was sort of a fluke. My cousin tagged me in a post on Facebook with an article on listing all of the fish fry’s in the area. They were listed alphabetically and as such the Benedictine information was near the top of the list.

I eat a lot of fish this time of the year, I even observe an annual fast of sorts – this year I’ve given up stuff and everyday for forty days I fill up a bag of stuff and get rid of it. However I’d never attended an actual church fish fry.

I went with my family and a close friend who also happens to be a neighbor and her children. We had a blast! The food wasn’t great. It's kind of what I expect to come out of a school cafeteria. But how many times in life does one remember food exclusively? I tend to think that we remember the experience more.

The following week I went back, armed with a journalist who had a giant microphone and headphones. I was completely worried that we wouldn’t be welcomed, or seen as some type of exploiter.

However, none of that happened, everything in opposition to that happened. Justin and I were greeted warmly by the priests, laypersons, families, and regulars, folks wanted to know what the name of the show was. Justin went in the back of the kitchen and spoke to Father Anselm. I stayed at the dining table and spoke to members of a family supporting one student at the school. One faction of the lively crew drove from Lakewood to attend and another faction had the most adorable toddler that seemed to make a living out of giving her mother a hard time. 

Justin introduced me to Father Anselm, a near 50 year resident in the community. The Benedictine monks - there are 17 of them - take a vow of stability. They vow to live and stay right where they are: The corner of MLK Jr. Drive and Buckeye Road. There is something so demystifying in that knowledge, something humbling and satisfying, and something moving that I haven’t emotionally unwrapped just yet.

I know it’s 6:10am every morning because I can hear the bells that chime signaling Morning Prayer for the monks. I am usually up to hear the delightful tolls and measure whether I'm on time by that sound.

By the time the bells ring, Father Anselm has been up and at ‘em for at least 90 minutes!

I sit up most mornings and stare out my window and listen to the sounds of Buckeye. I listen to the birds chirping and the grind of the train hauling some unknown material down the hill, I listen to dogs barking and the hallow billowing of the rapid traveling between the East 93rd Street and East 116th Street stations, and then I listen to those bells. The full toll takes about one minute.

I used to wonder what they meant. Now I know, and that means something.