Over the last seven months, a wave of activity called ChesterFest has risen from a cloudbank on the horizon to a tsunami crashing through the last few weeks of reality. I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly in our local community, and having walked through the blast and survived the storm to now sit contented by the fire, I can honestly say I was in charge of the feats of strength.
Rising even taller than the six-foot traditional Festivus aluminum pole, the bell ringer at the entrance to this year’s ChesterFest was my station where I was privileged to watch the magic work. “Ring the bell! Ring the bell! The girls love it when you ring the bell!” Give me a crowd, something to hawk, and out pops the carny in me.
So here I am, challenging the populace of my adopted hometown to “Ring the bell!” and wouldn’t you know it, this repetitious and to some annoying occupation became this week’s metaphor. The rest of the Commonwealth may have been focused on the state fair, and some may have been distracted by college football, soccer games, weddings, or other trivial pursuits; however, your friendly local community organizers in the Chester Community Association played stagehand as Chester residents gathered to produce a symphony of activity.
There were funnel cakes, local talent, enough politicians to kiss every baby in town, and more than enough crafters to prepare for Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, and Ramadan. The Junior ROTC were militantly helpful and the Keyettes were there every time you turned around, doing the heavy lifting and folding the last chair. But what would a festival be without some obnoxious guy with a whiny voice accosting people just as they walk in, “Ring the bell! Ring the bell! The girls love it when you ring the bell! ” Nothing says fun at a festival like the obnoxious guy urging you to do something you wouldn’t ordinarily do.
People reacted in many different ways. Some smiled, some scowled, some laughed, and some dismissed, but none ignored. Just like life, the shrill guy with the meaningless challenge required some of your time and a little of your money, but at least he gave you the chance to stand tall in the estimation of your children, seem mighty to your girl, or show those silly boys that you can do it, too. Even if the hammer was too heavy or the bell was too high, the transparency of the required effect was so basic everyone could see how they fared immediately: 100, 200, 700, or “I rang the bell!” Those who missed the sweet spot were all told “Good try” or “Maybe next time” or “Wow, that was close.” And for those who just couldn’t get it even after multiple tries, at least they knew their money was going to a worthy cause, making Chester a better place to live, a community where people have fun together and maybe even get to know a neighbor. That was the good.
Then there were those who had to be bad. The whiners who complained all the way and then wanted credit for everything everyone else had done. I wonder if they ever realize how obvious they are? Those who are pushing the wagon can always spot those who merely have their hand on the cart, no matter how hard they pretend to groan. There’s a difference between finding money on the street and earning it and there’s a difference between pretending to help while getting in the way and doing the work. Even this far south of Oz, there’re always enough shirkers willing to take credit for the work of others to make sure in the realm of real and perceived appreciation, we act like twenty-first century Americans and spread the wealth around.
And yes, Virginia, there was also the ugly. Some people really seem to think others enjoy putting up with them and their egos. The “Do you know who I am” crowd is always lurking ready to strike. Habitually rude people never seem to realize everyone else knows they aren’t just having a bad day; it’s a lifestyle. I’d feel sorry for them, but life comes down to choices, and they are living theirs while the happy people just smile and laugh in spite of them.
So what does it all mean? Either you’re working to make life better, you’re reaping where you haven’t sown, or you’re planting weeds in the neighbor’s garden. Deep Thought, the greatest mega-computer ever built, said the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything was 42, so it kind of makes sense that for me the experience of ChesterFest, a festival for the rest of us, can be summed up in the barker’s taunting mantra, “Ring the bell! Ring the bell! The girls love it when you ring the bell! ”