The Harmony Bell

Words by Carly Greene Hill (aka @tinywiter)


Rachel had arrived home from Ubud after a long spring, back in 2013. I saw honey flow from her ears, her lips. Her suitcases were bursting, flooded with the inspiration she’d picked up from her time away. Her fire was different—no less intense, but now, more focused. Softened, like it was mixed with bubbly. I remember she took one look at me, and immediately saw the purple around my eyes, the gray that’d I’d been growing inside. 

“I had been worried about you when I left,” she said. “I’m glad I am home. I have something for you,” she told me. Rachel was one of the first people I’d spilled my guts out too. Back then, I’d trapped myself into a particularly harmful relationship, learning the hard lessons: you cannot trade yourself for scraps of someone else’s affection. It was dramatic; I wore it on my skin.

Rachel pulls out a long necklace made up of rough reddish seeds, clear and blue beads, and a tiny silver charm at its pinnacle. She explains that the pendant is a Harmony Bell and it chimes as the person wearing it walks and moves. Its song lightens the heart of its owner, and it’s said that this song provides protection and comfort. She tells me that it’s made for me, that she strung it herself (there’s that soft fire in her eyes again). The women on the Gilli islands taught her how to prepare them.

The events that ensued were a series of playful, spitfire-like wonders. Rachel’s gift did, in fact, keep me safe, especially as I buffalo’d my way around a self-love china shop... but it was the honey in her heart, that bursting idea that begged for new things to catch fire. Her focused energy didn’t budge. We met at Rebar only weeks later. Rachel sat with a list in front of her, shoveling coffee and breakfast snacks in my direction. “Business meeting,” she declared, before I could argue who could pay.

I was the first employee of the Shanti Collective.

I sat on her couch most weekdays, messing up necklaces and developing a love-hate relationship with sitcoms. We lived down the hall from each other, in an old brick building with musty hallways and cozy interiors. Back in those days, there were no puppies or babies in Pete & her’s apartment—just heaps of coffee piled on her rickety Ikea work table (which still exists) and a living room exploding with tassels, spacers, paper, rudrakshas, and thread.

I wrote for Rachel. I’d sit beside her and examine her creations closely. I’d memorize the properties of gemstones, as I scribbled my penmanship into a permanent font for the malas. I wrote poems and intentions for the future owners of these talismans. Often times, these tasks kept me sane. Before long, I’d meander down to wharfside markets and help Rachel (read: laze in the sunshine while eating donuts with Dana) as bypassers excitedly held the trinkets she had put together. Often times, these evenings taught me how to be happy.

Rachel has always had a specific and spectacular way of thanking people. It’s a talent, really. I don’t know of anyone who can make you feel acknowledged like she can. She never forgets a birthday, she’s the first with bells on to commemorate a special achievement, and she’ll find any  excuse to celebrate with you over a smooth glass of red wine, and some sort of lemony dessert. I watched over the last six years as Rachel thanked thousands of people with her gifts. We listened to her on stages, in Whistler markets, in downtown cafes giving workshops. And each time, she’d teach friends and strangers how to string together a bit of borrowed magic. She reminded us to sit still, savouring the way art feels when you’re living through it. She surprised us with tokens that spoke to something important on the inside: “yes, you are enough,” her gifts always seem to say.

The first necklace Rachel ever made still hangs from a mirror in my house. I don’t live down the hallway anymore, and that’s only one of many, many changes we’ve been through together since that day in 2013. Even still, the harmony bell chirps and chimes as if it’s been enchanted with some magic, like a charm that keeps you safe on really bad days. I reach for it when I am stuck in a piece of writing, or stranded in my own dark thoughts. Every time, it seems to repel those doubtful demons that would have you believe there’s little love left in the world.

I’ve tried to write this down before—how Rachel’s fire-like spirit, her presence for life and her gifts of creativity have ushered me towards a bigger sense of connectedness, and love. I imagine you’ve felt some of these ways, too. I imagine you’ve felt equal parts astonished and relieved when she serendipitously showed up on your doorstep with a boon made of amethyst or rose quartz. I bet you still remember that workshop where you experienced that chill of artistry, sitting next to family or friends while selecting your own stones and black, porous beads that smelled of peppermint. I reckon, like me, you still reach for a mala you picked out for yourself on a very gloomy day, and like me, it still reconnects you with a sense of meaning and peace.

I’ve tried to write all this before, my dear friend Rachel. And perhaps the best way to summarize my gratitude is to share a piece of writing I madly scrawled out after a melancholy morning, almost two years ago:

“Love was there. It slipped out the door, crept down the hallway. Love was there, inside apartments, which were cradled next to each other and housed fights, breakdowns, and out-of-breath fits of laughter. Love was there, the day she tiptoed into my room, crawled into my bed, and joked about her belly being too big and in my way. Love was there as she held me close on a day I didn’t think I had anything left to give. Love was there, and because of her, it’s always been there. Rachel has sewn love into everything she’s ever made. She’s strung it from ceilings, baked it into banana bread, and captured it through the light in the trees.”
Love was there, when you started this beautiful art project. Love was there, and love still is... here. You can hear it, its uplifting jangle answering the silence—a belltoll for all the things worth being grateful for.

Thank you for everything, Rachel.