Dialing in: Silverton’s Wind Phone provides place to release grief, trauma

August 2021 Posted in Other

By Melissa Wagoner

Mike Ashland with the current incarnation of the Wind Phone booth

Mike Ashland has witnessed a lot of grief during his career as a pastor and the founder of the Church of the Moment, a nondenominational church in Silverton. And over the years – as he has attended funerals, hospice care and acted as a witness to life’s inherent traumas –
he has come to recognize that there are very few outlets available to those struggling with the effects of grief. Which is why he was so excited when he heard about the Wind Phone.

“Someone sent me the This American Life podcast,” Ashland recalled, referencing a story titled, “One Last Thing Before I Go,” which chronicles the creation of the first Wind Telephone – a defunct phone booth erected with the purpose of simulating communication between survivors of the 2011 tsunami in Japan and their loved ones who are either
dead or missing.

As implausible as it may sound, the Wind Telephone wasn’t some kind of magic trick. Rather, it was the embodiment of a cathartic release for the grief so many survivors were having difficulty processing. All of that grief needed somewhere to go and the Wind Telephone – placed in a windy garden overlooking the Pacific Ocean – allowed mourners to connect with thoughts and emotions by saying them out loud and releasing them into the wind. 

“If something is bothering you, you need to get it off your chest…” Ashland said of the way the Wind Telephone was able to help those suffering from widespread trauma. “The phone is the method to say what you need to say and put it out in the wind.”

There is also something in the physical act of stepping into the privacy of a booth, picking up a handset and dialing a number – any number – which gives the moment credence. Not dissimilar to spreading ashes, building an ofrenda or putting flowers on a grave, there is often a need for both a physical and emotional release when it comes to strong emotions.

“The act of dialing is the thing,” Ashland said. “That act of dialing makes the connection. Maybe you need to dial the number of your childhood or the number of the person that’s missing.”

The success of Japan’s Wind Telephone – which thousands have visited since its installation – made sense to Ashland, who in May 2021 decided Silverton needed a Wind Phone of its own. 

“My church was completely behind it, financially and structurally,” Ashland said. His parishioners raised $465 toward the renovation of a nonoperational phone booth.

Previously located in a family garden in Cottage Grove, Ashland transported the 300-pound booth to a peaceful space in the field next to 816 Liberty St. in Silverton where it has since received a new coat of paint, a “new” rotary-style phone and a fish-shaped prayer flag. On June 13 the Church of the Moment held a blessing ceremony and the Silverton Wind Phone was officially open for business. 

“It just feels really, really right,” Ashland said, upon viewing the booth in its new space. 

“People can walk here… no one will be recording or listening. It just goes into the wind.”

Silverton Wind Phone

“A place to call to talk to loved ones who are gone, people you have something to say to, or unload something that hurts.”

816 Liberty St., Silverton

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