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How Can You Change the World?

With a hammer, a bell and a song

Small bird sining in the reeds
We all have a song to sing.

The 1950s song ‘If I Had a Hammer’, written by Pete Seeger and Lee Hays, made popular by Peter, Paul and Mary, is an easy one to remember. The simple, repetitive lyrics refer to a hammer, a bell, and a song.

The last verse goes:

Well, I’ve got a hammer

And I’ve got a bell

And I’ve got a song to sing

All over this land

It’s the hammer of justice

It’s the bell of freedom

It’s a song about love between

My brothers and my sisters

All over this land . . .

What makes ‘If I Had a Hammer’ so powerful — and almost confronting — is the implication that we all have a hammer, a bell, and a song in us, and we need to put them to use to ensure things like justice, freedom and love flourish on the earth.

Hammers were first fashioned 3.3 million years ago. Bells have been around for over 3,000 years, and humans produced verbal musical sounds before they spoke. So, we’ve had hammers, bells and “songs” at our disposal for a very long time.

A hammer means action. It does things. Fixes things. Changes things. Get out your hammer and you’re about to do serious work. ‘Stand back, everyone. Here’s a person with a purpose!’ In go the nails to steady a structure, or down goes a door that blocked the way to somewhere better.

A bell emits a sound that carries a unique message. A bell can celebrate a wedding, warn of invasion, proclaim a death, tinkle peacefully in a breeze, punctuate a musical performance, end a meditation, announce an arrival at the door. Each bell is true to itself. Every time it’s struck, it radiates the same sound. A bell produces the sound it was made to make.

A song is sung words. We remember sung words longer. The combination of melody, rhythm and words create emotional layers that stay in the memory. The movie Alive Inside shows that people with Alzheimer’s disease remember songs long after they’ve forgotten how to speak.

We talk all the time. Spoken words are often flippant, thoughtless or disjointed, whereas a song is composed, perfected, then performed. When we sing, we pause to take a deep breath, recall specific notes, choose our pitch carefully, modify the power, enunciate each word, harmonize with others and keep in time. Compared to messy everyday talk, a song is a work of art.

Living with mindfulness

A hammer changes the physical or conceptual structure of the world.

A bell is true to itself.

A song is a work of art.

So, be a hammer, a bell and a song.

Change the world; be true to yourself; make your spoken words ones worth singing.

With love, Marlane

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