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Elizabeth Davies: Rest of us can learn from spirited bell ringer

Elizabeth Davies

It was, I’m sure, with the best of intentions that a mom volunteered to ring the Salvation Army bell with her preschooler this year.

This mom probably figured the volunteer job would teach her daughter the value of giving and the importance of helping others.

As it turned out, those concepts were slightly over this poor girl’s head. Instead, she called out rather indignantly after the shoppers who dared pass her bucket without making a donation.

“HEY!” she yelled after one passer-by, as her mother turned three shades of red and tried to shush her. “DON’T YOU WANT TO GIVE ME SOME MONEY?!”

I tried rather unsuccessfully not to laugh at the girl. After all, she was probably saying what most other bell ringers are thinking when their bucket gets snubbed.

And then I couldn’t help but notice the contrast when, a few weeks later, I came across another bell ringer. I watched him hold open the store’s door for a shopper overloaded with packages. Then he rushed to help an elderly woman to her car. He opened the door for me — my hands were busy pushing a stroller — and proceeded to make faces at my baby through the glass door as I peeled off his snowsuit.

That ringer gave a “Merry Christmas” to everyone, donation or not. A hearty “thank you” went out to those who dropped some change or a bill in his bucket.

His actions that day perfectly captured the holiday spirit — and not the commercial side of the holiday, either. He did his work cheerfully, and he brightened the day of everyone who passed by.

I did my shopping that morning, turning over in my mind the actions of the Salvation Army bell-ringer. Why is it so hard for the rest of us to spread joy at Christmas?

We spend hours baking cookies, only to complain about being fat. We trek across the rooftop to hang Christmas lights, then proceed to whine about the electric bill. We want a white Christmas unless it messes up our workday commute. We buy gifts until the card’s maxed out, shop till we drop in search of the perfect present and book every available night with parties and mixers.

It’s all just so far removed from the first Christmas. There were no mall Santa Clauses, no gift cards, no wish lists and no sugar cookies.

Just a couple of young parents, a few wise men, a handful of shepherds and one exceptional baby.

Just the amazement of new life, the joy of a child and the contentedness that comes when — for at least a moment — all is right with the world.

That’s the peace my bell ringer must have felt. It must be where he found his joy, and how he managed to spread it to the waves of people who walked by his bucket that day.

It seems that bell-ringing shift wasn’t about how much he had collected at the end of the day.

It was about how much he left behind.

Rockford Register Star