Of Ringing Bells and Red Kettles

paul-nordman-kettleSince childhood, I have admired the volunteers who “ring the bell” for the Salvation Army throughout the holiday season. So when given the opportunity to “adopt” a red kettle for a day, I invited some friends and family members to sign up for a time slot, and together, we joined “The Army” for a day-long tour of duty. We’ve continued this new tradition for about five years now, and what a blessing it has proven to be! So join me today for a glimpse from the other side of kettle and bell.

Ringing the bell is yet another sobering lesson in not judging a book by its cover. Admittedly, I’ve had to set aside any inclination to “predict” who will give and who will not. I’m usually wrong and just as often humbled.

My favorite moments? That’s easy—watching parents teach their children to give. You can see the entire play transpire: the family huddles up, the parents point out the route, Mom or Dad hands off the donation, and the kids carry the gift across the goal line with a celebratory spike. Way to go, Mom! Thank you, Dad! And congratulations, kiddos, for you’ve just learned more than you know!

The funniest moments are when the toddlers, who have yet to take on the burden of concealing their thoughts, blurt out something like, “Mommy, why is that man over there ringing that bell?” A red-faced mother picks up the pace, shushing her little herald along the way. I smile.

Occasionally, someone will approach with that weathered look of experience, giving voice to a far-off gaze of recollection: “I remember when I had nothing and the Salvation Army was there for me.” These most grateful people never fail to drop another “thank you” into the kettle.

Perhaps the saddest thing about tending the bucket is when people avoid eye contact because of guilt feelings for not giving. There are all sorts of reasons for not donating to a particular cause or in a given moment. I personally walk by many red kettles without contributing. If you choose not to give for whatever reason, here is my suggestion—greet the volunteer with a smile and a hearty “Merry Christmas.”

But the most humbling moments are when people put money in the kettle, then look me in the eye and say with all sincerity, “Thank you for your good work.” Outwardly, I say, “It’s my pleasure.” But inside I’m thinking, “Wait a minute! You are the one who just gave of your means to help someone else! Thank you!”

Thank you, indeed. May you have a merry and meaningful Christmas Season!

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