The Kindness of Strangers


I had the opportunity to ring the bell for the Salvation Army this year.  In the past I have done as many of you have.  Pretended that “you gave at the office” or faked a call on your cell phone to avoid the deep, soul searching stare that is followed haunting “Merry Christmas”.  I’ve thought for years, there must be a better way to get money for needy people.

All of that changed this year when I picked up that bell.  I just knew I’d be looking at my watch the whole time and feeling mortified thinking that people would look at me strangely.  Actually, they did.  In just a small window of time, I met a woman that worked for 23 years as a nurse in the hospitals of New York’s Hells Kitchen.  She opened her wallet and her conversation with gratitude.  She explained that for those 23 years she always worked on Christmas Eve, because she couldn’t stand for those sick people to be there all alone.  Each year the Salvation Army brought gifts to those lonely people and she added that they never forgot to bring one for her too.  I couldn’t believe that this little red bucket and gold bell meant so much to someone.

Another man came and folded his bills up, careful not to show how much he was putting in.  He told me that the Salvation Army got him off the “sauce” years ago and he never misses an opportunity to give back.  He told me that he saves change for months leading up to Christmas just to make sure he always has some to share with the The Salvation Army.  Again, I was blown away.

An elderly lady came up to the bucket and said thank you to me.  I was floored.  I had given no money. I had only rung a small bell and stood in one spot.  I told her she was mistaken.  The hard work was putting the money in the bucket  not ringing a bell.  Her words were, “You don’t know how much power that little bell has, young man”.  I guess I didn’t, but it was just a bell right.  She then reminded me I hadn’t had a Christmas that  I could remember not hearing the bell of the Salvation Army and what it would mean if there wasn’t one.
As for thinking this was not a great way to raise money, I kept a tally as best I could just to see.  In one hour I had collected right around a hundred bucks.  Sure, there were people that didn’t give, but now I was thinking that maybe they gave at the last place the saw someone ringing the bell.  There were a lot more people that did give.

The last person I had the pleasure of meeting came up to the red kettle and dropped in his contribution.  I offered a “Thank You”.  He took it and exchanged it for one of my most favorite sayings. “Young man,” he said, “The only thing evil needs to flourish is for good men to do nothing, keep up the good work.”  I wanted to cry.  I felt terrible for all of those years of ignoring the bell ringing.  There I was, my mouth wanting to come unhinged and fall open.  All I could say was, Merry Christmas.  He looked me right in the eyes and said, “attaboy!”

All in all, it was a great experience.  Ringing that bell did more for me than anyone else, I think.  I know I will do it again.

It was strange to see the kindness in people’s eyes as the dropped that money in the red kettle.  Knowing that this year of all years, that Christmas would be a little tighter.  If you ever miss seeing the Spirit of Christmas, call your Salvation Army and Volunteer for an hour or two.  You will see more love and random acts of kindness than you will be able to stand.



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