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Big Ben’s silenced bells and the eclipse: My mother’s end of the world


The Anchoress - published on 08/21/17

Bong…bong…bong, you can hear the last bells here.

And so Big Ben has gone silent. As the clock undergoes repairs, its far-reaching chimes will not be heard for the next four years, except for on the most special of occasions.

And of course, today is the day of the Great Eclipse, which will cut a swath of totality across the United States. People are — as they ever have — assigning portentous meaning to the eclipse, but all I keep thinking is: this is the day my mother should have lived for.

You know why, right? Because within a 24 hour period, Jerry Lewis has died, Big Ben has been silenced, and the sun will have gone dark, while revealing 6 Truths.

That would have been enough for her. Like Fred Sanford clutching his chest and proclaiming “this is the big one, Elizabeth!” my mother would be certain that if today wasn’t a world-ender, it was at the very least the equivalent of Gabriel, blowing his horn. There was nothing she loved better than the idea that the world was ending, Jesus was coming back, and all of our weary pain and long suffering would be over.

I wrote about this in my book, Little Sins Mean a Lot:

…the church and her saints teach us that memento mori (“remember your death”) is a valuable tool for habituating mindfulness in our lives. My mother used it more for entertainment purposes, coupling it with a taste for eschatology. Sometimes as she poured my Rice Krispies before school she would intone, “the world is going to end in the year two-thousand,” and then float back to the coffeepot. My cereal would snap, crackle, and pop itself soggy as I did the math. Crap. I’d only be 42 years old. That didn’t seem very fair. But the truth is, life is not fair, at least not to our human understanding of fairness. As Christians we know that “all things work to God’s own purpose” – and God’s purposes are always right and just — but we tend to forget that in our day-to-day living. Perhaps beside memento mori, we should scribble memento iustitia Deo (“remember God is Just”) to help bring the point home. Then we might be less inclined toward the small habitual sins of gloominess and griping, which not only scare little children, but also leave them – and all of us — wondering what the point of life is.  “We live out our hell on earth,” my mother used to say, “that’s what I think.” “What about the people in purgatory?” I once asked. “Purgatory is for the people who didn’t suffer enough on earth,” she’d posit. “Everyone has to get their fair share of suffering.” On that downer of a note, she’d give me something snacky to eat and send me outside to play. I would sit beneath a weeping willow tree, or within a cove of fragrant evergreens, and finger the soft moss, and wonder how she could talk about “hell-on-earth” when there was so much heaven all around.

In honor of my mother, gone these twenty years — much too impatient to wait for the peak eschatological experience I’m sure she’d find this — I shall raise a glass of iced coffee and toast the eclipse in her memory, precisely at 2:46:07 EDT, while playing a video of the Big Ben Chimes, for good effect. And

Bong, bong, bong” will go the bells.

Hey lady! Oh, lady! Nice lady!

God rest you and bless you, Mom.

Oh, she would have loved this!

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