Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Liberty Bell: Just the Two of Us


Well, I did it again, said I'd talk about one thing and neglected it for another. Yesterday's post was supposed to be about Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, but reading over it, I'm darned if I can find any reference to a bell. What is it they say about good intentions? 

I suppose, without realizing it, the omission was intentional. Independence Hall was the main attraction and my primary reason for driving downtown in the first place. I really didn't think about seeing the Liberty Bell, despite all the times I've watched National Treasure (2004). It simply didn't cross my examination-addled mind.

That's the thing about medical boards exams, if I've never mentioned it before. They're exhausting. Whether they test your command of first year science material, second year disease processes, or physical exam skills, by the time you've finished, you've got every reason to be justifiably weary. Whoever first described them as "marathons" was exactly right. They feel like 26 hard-fought miles whose successful completion depend as much on adequate sleep, nutrition, and psychological preparation, as upon whatever study and skills review you may have done. Which helps explain why I couldn't entertain seeing both Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell at the same time; by then my brain had seriously limited space and Independence Hall won the toss.

The moment I saw the Liberty Bell, however, thanks to the comment of a passing stranger, was more than a surprise, though definitely all of that. The last thing I expected was that it might be even remotely accessible. Especially considering how my efforts to position myself on the Independence Hall side of Chestnut Street for a closer shot of Washington's statue were quickly suppressed by a guard whose face clearly stated, "Don't Tread On Me." Spending the night in the Philadelphia hoosegow didn't seem like the best way to pad my resume, so I retreated across the street like Washington's forces fleeing New York ahead of the British. 

Oddly enough, where the Liberty Bell was concerned, there were no guards to be found. Then again, the glass enclosure surrounding it isn't the sort of thing a graffiti artist with a piece of chalk could insult, whereas the brick facade of Independence Hall isn't quite so resilient. But I liked that, their absence, I mean. It gave me a chance to stand a mere few feet away from it, nose pressed against the glass like a Dickens character, just me and the Liberty Bell, just the two of us. Maybe it comes from all those days spent wandering the meadows among the trees as a kid, the sense that inanimate objects aren't soulless, but to me, it felt like I was in the presence of something sacred. 

The Liberty Bell hangs in solitude, as though nothing else is quite worthy of its company, and the structure in which it is housed could easily be a glass cathedral. Maybe my theological background is coming out and someone else might view all of this quite differently, and that's fair to say. Still, there's something about the Liberty Bell that made me feel it ought to be shown reverence. It was the only thing I wanted a photo of myself alongside that afternoon. The unnamed tourist, the one who drew my attention to it, was my photographer.

The memorial itself is a city block long and the President's House or it's framework, lies at the far end. Walking back toward Independence Hall, I had to stop and gaze at the Bell again, truly feeling loathe to leave. The hour was getting late and I needed to, but I didn't want to. I can't explain it, but there's a beneficence, or better yet, a holiness about the Liberty Bell. Not the fearful, overpowering mystery of a burning bush, more like the gentle, suffer the little children to come unto me, sort of holiness. A holiness born of vulnerability, one the Liberty Bell was foundered with and that became evident when it rang. But even now, when it appears silent, it is not silent.

Draw near. Closer. Closer still and listen. Listen as I did. Can't you hear it whisper? 



(Photo copyright 2013 by the author.)   
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