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Peace Takes a Heavy Toll on Mother's Day : Orange Is One of Leading Cities in Global Bell Ringing

May 05, 1987|LYNN SMITH | Times Staff Writer

Fiction: Two teen-agers huddle in a basement bomb shelter, awaiting nuclear war. They decide that if they ever get out of this alive, they will rely no longer on adults to protect them; they will declare peace themselves through a global bell-ringing rally.

Reality: "Pocket Full of Posies," a novel for young adults about the medical consequences of nuclear war written four years ago by Vermont pediatrician Jack Mayer, remains unpublished. But Mayer's notion of peace bells has turned into a real event every Mother's Day for several hundred peace activists from Tonga to Pakistan.

One of the loudest takes place every year in the city of Orange, said Mayer, who was in Anaheim last week for a pediatricians' convention.

Starting at 11:45 a.m. Sunday, the tintinnabulation will include scores of cowbells, gongs and chimes, five church bells, a hand bell choir and a fire station bell, said Michelle McFadden of Orange, organizer of the bell-ringing rally for the past three years.

Sponsored by Women's Action for Nuclear Disarmament (WAND), the rally will begin with speeches and songs at the Chapman College Chapel, at the corner of Maple Avenue and Grand Street in Orange. From there, an expected 250 participants will march to the Orange Circle for the reading of a peace treaty, then on to the fire station where they will sing "It's a Small World" and release helium balloons, McFadden said.

Some participants bring their own bells. But a good bell is hard to find, McFadden said. WAND members also will sell bells ($4 to $20) on consignment from the United Nations.

McFadden, 40, a free-lance editor and writer of a children's peace column, is a Christian-oriented environmentalist who said she turned to peace activism after the birth of her son, Colin, now 6. She wrote to Mayer after learning about his novel from a peace publication. He wrote back, designating her the official bell holder for the Pacific time zone.

His notion of peace bells had haunted him since he wrote the bomb shelter scene, said Mayer, 39, a lifelong social activist and member of Physicians for Social Responsibility, the American affiliate of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. He decided to contact peace activists worldwide, asking them to ring bells every Mother's Day from noon to 1 p.m.

No particular religious, philosophical or political ideology governs the peace bell rallies, said Mayer, who figures that he has spent as much as $10,000 a year on the events. Critics from both the left and right have suggested that his money should go to better use. One, he said, even called him a "ding-a-ling."

Mayer said he chose Mother's Day because one of the originators of Mother's Day, Julia Ward Howe of Boston, had intended the holiday to focus on world peace. Born in 1819, Howe was distressed by the carnage of the Franco-Prussian War, he said. In her "Reminiscences," she wrote: "Why do not the mothers of mankind interfere in these matters to prevent the waste of human life, which they alone bear and know the cost?"

Though Mother's Day is an American holiday, other countries have similar holidays, usually in May, to honor mothers, he said.

So far, Mayer said, he has designated official bell holders in 21 of the world's 24 time zones. Each has received an official ceramic bell made in Vermont. About 16 of the official bell holders conduct ringing ceremonies, he said.

One of them is Marucca Riaz of Jalapa, Nicaragua, whose 14-year-old son died in the current strife in her country. She rings a single bell in her backyard for an hour, Mayer said.

Several towns in Sweden have coordinated a simultaneous ringing of church bells, he said.

In Vatican City, the official bell holder is Pope John Paul II. The pontiff's office sent a letter of support, but there's no evidence that he has rung the bell sent to him, Mayer said. Ditto for two bell holders from Moscow.

But in Orange, McFadden has seen her Mother's Day Peace Bell celebration grow from a few dozen friends and relatives to a few hundred adults and children marching, singing and speaking. "For many, it's the first peace-related act they come to," she said. The event attracts people who desire peace but are not militant enough to participate in demonstrations, she said. The disarmament message is "wrapped in a positive upbeat atmosphere," she said.

Mayer does not consider whether peace will become a reality in his time. "Peace is a process, not a destination," he said. "Peace on this planet is fed by the idea of peace. Like war is fed by the idea of war."

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