Walsh's Wonderings - Ears & eyeballs toward kindness

Photo of Robert Walsh

Acts of kindness can often be felt far beyond the target audience, and this coming weekend allows us to observe how the ripple effect of one mother’s journey through grief helped heal relative strangers on the other side of the country.

The first time the world heard Ben’s Bells was in 2003 on the first anniversary of his death. Jeannette Maré worked through her grief over losing her son just before his third birthday by creating ceramic wind chimes in an effort to help her family heal. She and her friends randomly distributed these beautifully handmade chimes throughout her hometown of Tucson, Arizona., hoping to encourage the acts of kindness she’d depended on to get her through each day.

Ben’s Bells has operated as a nonprofit ever since, distributing thousands of bells every year while developing education programs that promote the power of kindness to heal. The bells have been “hung randomly in trees, on bike paths, and in parks, with a written message to take one home and pass on the kindness,” reads their website, bensbells.org. “The Bells are a symbol of kindness and its power in healing, meant to touch others’ lives and make our community a more gentle place to live.”

Stratford, Connecticut resident Bob Jaekle can attest to that first hand. He sought to heal his own family after the tragic passing of his wife, the result of a long and heroic battle with cancer. Kristin Jaekle “earned her wings” just after her 48th birthday, leaving Bob and his sons Davis, Maxwell and Owen to look for ways to honor her memory.

Inspired by the story behind Ben’s Bells, they created their own campaign to spread her message of kindness and hope in a more visual medium. They began spreading small rocks inscribed with a butterfly (Kristin’s favorite) and sent them out into the world to be discovered by new, distant strangers who might need encouragement or peace. Much like Ben’s Bells, people who found the rocks shared pictures of where they’d found them, many including their own stories of grief, healing and hope.

Along with fellow Short Beach Park commissioner Karen Daden, Bob extended his support of Jeannette Maré’s cause by helping commission a permanent reminder that we all benefit from conscious acts of kindness. They kicked off their ‘Be Kind’ campaign two weeks ago with community members gathering at the beach to create hundreds of kindness coins under the watchful eyes of Ben’s Bells volunteers. Still other volunteers help create and decorate the imprinted pottery that would eventually end up in local artist Barb Waters’ epic mural, Inspire Kindness.

The mural adorns the first wall of the main building and is meant to grab the eye from the parking lot. Shimmering lines made of cut mirrors sparkle in the sun and reflect the waters of Long Island Sound as one walks toward it. It heralds a theme that will run throughout the park, with beach and golf course signage extolling the virtues of sharing encouraging acts.

More importantly, it stands as a testament to the impact each of us can have on total strangers by harnessing the power of kindness. Whether you were first captivated by the chimes of Ben’s Bells or lost in the beauty of Kristin’s butterflies, this Saturday morning’s official mural unveiling is a bold attempt to capture our hearts in the hope we share them with those around us.

You can read more at RobertFWalsh.com , contact him at RobertFWalshMail@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @RobertFWalsh .