Mike's Notes: Sleigh Bells, Community, and Listening for Kindness

Posted by Mike Henriques


I brought the bell back over to my office on Wednesday. Right now I am thinking it is my lucky snow charm, this old sleigh bell dug up by the dirt fishermen between the Annex and King House three or four years ago, because we are delighting in the three feet of snow that fell yesterday. 


It’s got heft, this lucky bell, and a small clapper inside that still makes a jingle. It’s not hard to imagine it hanging on a harness in the barn that used to stand next to Carr House or tossing its rolling silver call into the night as a sleigh whispered on snowpack towards Danbury, New London, or Salisbury. Of course the bell also calls to mind the Chris Van Allsburg classic, The Polar Express, a favorite of so many. 


I am glad the dirt fishermen, Dave and Dana, were out those many years ago, sweeping their metal finders across the grounds, and pinging on this bit of buried magic. In the Van Allsburg classic, the gift of the story is the exhortation to believe. Believe in the possibility of the North Pole, the elves, the reindeer, Santa, and (of course) an improbable train that needs no tracks and has porters serving hot chocolate as the express winds its way to the North Pole. That small bell, the first gift of Christmas that falls out of the boy’s pocket and ends up under the tree and can be heard only by those who truly believe, is a reminder about faith and the unseen. 


The bell on my desk is also a reminder. When I brought it back to the office (it had been rattling around in a cubby in my truck) I thought maybe I, too, needed to use this small Proctor sleigh bell as a reminder to believe in something both ineffable and tangible: the quality of kindness. 


If I am honest with myself, I’ve been a bit of a crank this fall. The pandemic, the politics, the disruption of routine, the pinned down feeling, the worry we all breathe and function in is now an all-too-familiar atmosphere. And I have noticed that as a result many, myself included, have shorter fuses. We’re snappish. Quicker to judge and fault others. What saves us from a dark spiral and collapse in these times are the moments of kindness, of giving back that play out all around us and that we take in, a separate air we can breathe. It could be a song like the one Annie shared in assembly yesterday, or perhaps Calvin, jumping in to share the history of Hanukkah, but these moments brighten time and cleanse the air. These are not “have to” moments but simple giving back, a kindness that inspires and keeps us healthy. Both as individuals and community.

Proctor Academy Boarding Prep School New EnglandProctor Academy Boarding Prep School New England

This is the third (maybe fourth?) time I have written about the sleigh bell gifted to me by Dana and Dave, two of our stars on Maintenance. Dana is someone I consider a boiler magician who understands the intricacies of mechanical systems that I could never fathom. Dave is a carpenter, a wood artist who can seemingly make anything. That bell they gave to me years ago has come to mean much to me, and as it sits on my cluttered desk today, I will pick it up, give it a gentle shake, listen to the silver chuckle, and think about kindness. I will be reminded of all that I see in this community and all that I can do to contribute my fair share. 


As we pause for a break for these next two weeks, I wish everyone peace, joy, and kindness over the holidays. 


Mike Henriques P'11, P'15

Proctor Academy Head of School

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