Chapel of the Chimes

on January 1, 2019

Inside the Chapel of the Chimes in North Oakland, it is quiet. The hum of daily life just outside—cars passing by, construction work, a breeze—disappears. It is the type of place where visitors whisper even though there are no rules against talking. Many of the visitors come to mourn or pay respects to a loved one, whose remains reside among thousands and thousands of others here.

On this Monday morning, there are only a few visitors wandering—that’s all one can really do at the Chapel of the Chimes. It’s a maze of rooms, each with their own little wonders. Up through arched doorways, sudden turns: left, right, left, left. A room no bigger than an elevator with a single, unoccupied chair. Musty, yellow light pouring in through stained glass windows above. Surrounded by names and lives, some memorialized with a bright bouquet of white and pink lilies—a recent visit. Others with lavender daises, petals wilted and falling out. The faint murmuring of water in the distance.

Deeper into the maze, natural sunlight from above shines through. The rooms shift from cloistered, stone chambers into open gardens. A statue of an angel with a mosaic of blue-tiled wings stands above a shallow fountain. Behind the statue in the next room, a tree—its thick branches jutting out and up toward the sunlight.

Birds chirping. Following the chirping, more trees, ferns, gardens. Each room with a fountain now. The ceiling is one big window to the bright blue sky. An idyllic version of nature inside the columbarium.

A yellow and an orange canary, each perched in their own cage, eat breakfast, pecking at a piece of broccoli. Their twitchy movements are out of place. Above the canaries, two janitorial staff workers chat. The surreal scene is familiar to them. Beside them is a clear, plastic trash bag filled with flowers.

Upstairs, one memorial has a teddy bear in lieu of flowers. The memorial is one of 32 on a narrow wall inset from the rest. These were short lives. Some only list one date. Jan 29 1976, fresh pink flowers. Others: Aug 3-7 1980, May 8 1992 – Feb 2 1994. Below the dates Apr 24 2006 – May 14 2006, it says Mark 10:15, referencing the Bible verse: “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

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