Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What the Bell Ringer Saw...

  I spent last Saturday afternoon ringing a bell for the Salvation Army kettle drive. My son’s Boy Scout troop manned the kettle at a local Macy’s as their monthly service project, and my wife is the troop service project coordinator, so there was no way for me to worm out of it. As a result, I was able only to see the first half of the Baked Potato Bowl (or whatever that was on ESPN).
  You know all about the bell ringers. You see them every year, standing in front of nearly every store you visit. Hopefully, you drop a few coins in the kettle as you pass by. Sometimes you silently curse the incessant ringing (you know you do).
  When I donned that red Salvation Army apron and hefted that bell in my right hand, I became witness to all the faces of the Christmas season. I saw anger, stress, indifference and, perhaps surprisingly, lots of good cheer.
  There were the Avoiders - these people try not to make eye contact as they pass to enter the store:
  • Some look down at the ground;
  • Some will reach into their pockets and fumble around as if looking for change, only to pass on by;
  • Some pretend to talk on their cell phones.
  There were the Apologists:
  • “I just don’t have any money on me.”
  • “I put a bunch of money in a kettle yesterday.”
  There was the Candy Man, who walked up to me and held out a wrapped hard candy for me. With my left hand in my coat pocket, and my right hand ringing the bell, I smiled at the man and said, “No thank you.”
  The Candy Man gasped and took a step back, seemingly unable to believe that I had refused his piece of candy. “Don’t take candy from strangers” is good advice for adults too, I think. He stalked off in a huff, without putting anything in the kettle.
  An elderly Asian lady tried to convert my son to Buddhism. She handed him a card and then spoke to him in Japanese for what seemed like a really long time. Then she told him in English that she had given him a Buddhist blessing. He thanked her, and kept ringing his bell.
  A middle-aged man dropped a dollar into my kettle and then asked me if I knew Jesus Christ. Just as I was about to say, “Yeah, I think he’s working the kettle over at Wal-Mart,” my wife stepped in and had a nice conversation with the man. She knows me well.
  I’ll admit I had been dreading doing this. I know, I know. But standing all afternoon and not being able to get away from the ringing...the Baked Potato Bowl seemed awfully enticing.
  Then a funny thing happened - the smiles of the children were contagious. Children love to put money in the kettle, and they beg their parents for quarters, dollars, anything. Once I realized that, I began to ring the bell with more gusto. I even sang a little bit (but not too much, because I didn’t want to scare anyone).
  Here’s Christmas for you: A large family (mom, dad, 6 kids) emerged from Macy’s, a blur of packages, sacks, animated chatter and untied shoes. The dad was harried, focused on getting his brood to the car intact.
  And then, one of the children, a little boy maybe 6 years old, stopped. “I want a dollar!” he cried out. His father, clearly feeling the holiday stress, bellowed, “No!” and tried to keep walking. But now all 6 children had stopped. They looked at the shiny red kettle, and then at their father, who was now scowling. I thought we might have an ugly scene...
  ...Until the mom opened her purse, and the spirit of Christmas came spilling out of it, in the form of nickels, pennies, dimes, all manner of coins transferred to the sweaty hands of those 6 children, who grinned from ear to ear as they deposited their largesse in the kettle.
  “Merry Christmas!” I called out. The father stood silently, watching his family, and though his expression never changed, I pictured his heart growing a size or two like in the Dr. Seuss Grinch cartoon.
  At home, later in the evening, I felt like I could still hear the bell ringing. And I was glad.


1 comment:

Darrin said...

Very well put Tod. I have never participated in this one with the Scouts but you might have just changed my mind. Thanks!!