Until recently, I’d never heard of Ben’s Bells. I drove down to Phoenix a few weeks ago to visit a friend, and they immediately showed me a small colorful wind chime that had been hanging in a random tree at the local park.
“I found one of Ben’s Bells!” they exclaimed, looking at me expectedly for an equally enthusiastic reaction.
The bell was clearly handmade and included several different components, the main one being an open flower shape. It certainly looked like a fun find as I’m all for random trinket discoveries, but I didn’t fully understand the importance of the situation until they gave me some background information, and then I read more about it online.
The company was launched in Tucson in 2002 following the sudden death of founders Jeannette and Dean Maré’s 3-year-old son, Ben. They found some comfort in the creation of these clay bells and began sharing them with other residents in the hopes of bringing joy to their lives. Each of the bells comes with a note to pass kindness along as well as a quote from Indian yogi and guru Paramahansa Yogananda: “Kindness is the light that dissolves all walls between souls, families and nations.”
The bells began to catch on locally before, nine years later, another tragedy hit Tucson in the form of a mass shooting at a constituent event for U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords which ended with six people dead and 13 wounded. Ben’s Bells volunteers distributed 1,300 bells in the aftermath, actions which eventually caught the attention of NBC Nightly News which did a story on how the bells were helping the community recover from the trauma.
Now with studios in Phoenix and Connecticut joining the two original ones in Tucson, volunteers continue to help make the bells and distribute them at various locations for people to stumble across; the bells have never been sold for profit.
The company encourages people to share stories of how they found the bells, and a recent post on the website came from Tory T, a University of Arizona student who says she is familiar with Ben’s Bells.
“It reminded me of the beauty of this lifetime and mended my soul,” she writes of the unexpected discovery. “Your compassion is a spontaneous, tender blessing that brought me to tears. I plan to further this act of kindness by hanging the chime at the cemetery where my dad and brother are buried, so that another grieving person may be comforted.”
Another recent post comes from Margarida Galrito, a visitor from Portugal who found a bell during a hike at the Grand Canyon.
“I will take you with me to Portugal and if that place was magic for me it will still be remembered with more magic. Thank you for spreading gratitude and magic,” she writes.
While small gestures like Ben’s Bells demonstrate how kindness can travel and heal, sometimes people can be exhausted from the effort it takes to simply live. We’re all the center of our own universes and can be too absorbed in our own dramas to remember others are also dealing with struggles hidden beneath the surface.
A recent shock within the fashion industry was the suicide of designer Kate Spade, 55. She was found by a housekeeper on Tuesday, June 5, with a note addressed to her 13-year-old daughter next to her. In it, she wrote that it wasn’t her fault.
It can be difficult to live with an invisible disability such as depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder. Spade had tried to get help in managing her mental health for years, but as details have come out, it seems the weight became too much. Years of struggling finally took its toll on her.
New York Fashion Week creator Fern Mallis knew Spade for nearly three decades and said she was “the last person on earth you'd think would take her own life” in an interview with CBS News.
Life isn’t always made up of the pleasures of a breezy bike ride or butterflies when getting to know someone new. There’s help for those who need to talk. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline offers free and confidential support 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255. The Crisis Text Line also offers help from trained crisis counselors to US residents who text 741741.