A window inside life at Augustana College

Rng-a-Ling

I’m walking towards the entrance of Walmart when I first hear it, and oh dear Lord, I am frightened. Why are they here? It isn’t even Thanksgiving yet! OhGodohGodohGod.

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 There is no way to avoid it, and to be honest, for a second, I think of forgetting the trip entirely. I mean, do I really need those socks? I can go an extra day without that stick of deodorant, right? Though, in the end, I decide to stick it out because, honestly, it’d be slightly ridiculous of me to fear that man with the scraggly beard whose only weapon is a bell. So instead, I suck  in my breath through chattering teeth and try to keep my eyes focused on the automatic door.

“Hello, happy holidays.” Ah fuuuu-

At this point, I have to tear my eyes away from the doors that are opening up towards me and give a sheepish smile, “Uh, yeah, you too.” before I look back ahead and rush into that safe haven of warmth.

Though, honestly, what makes us so fearful of those Salvation Army bell ringers?

It really isn’t too hard of a question to answer because if you’re like me and have made the mistake of making eye contact with one of the volunteers, you instantly get hit with that feeling of red hot guilt as they look to you, cold and down-trodden, waiting for you to put some cash in those little red buckets. It’s not like it’s their fault. They (probably) didn’t conspire with the gas station up the street that tricked you into donating a dollar to the make-a-wish foundation (“Okay, so 10 dollars on pump 5 – donate a dollar?” “Yeah, sure – wait, what?”).

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the sort of unfeeling, uncharitable jerk who mumbles out something along the lines of “Charity, yeah, they should make one for me while they’re at it.” I used to give my money away left and right – whether out of the goodness of my heart or because I felt like a terrible person if I didn’t. However, somehow this academic year  I’m being a little less giving. I mean, who knows what I might need that dollar for? Say I go to a party and a cup is four dollars and holy cow I only have three? It would be terrible.

Okay, I jest, but the point is that it seems as I get older it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to donate my hard-earned cash, and hey, what are those Salvation Army bell ringers going to do if I don’t donate? Bludgeon me with the bell? They don’t even look happy when they’re outside, and when you give them your spare change, they mumble out some kind of thanks and a happy holiday which you reciprocate just as equally peeved.

So imagine my surprise today when I went to Walgreen’s and came across the same scene: it’s cold out, there is a guy right outside the entrance just shaking that stupid bell and I think I can be sly and slip right by him, but then, he singles me out: “I like your shoes.” I almost stop, but I’ve slowly become trained to ignore at full force, though I look up and smile and say my thanks. “I like your jacket, too. I gotta get a leather jacket to replace this one.” he dusts off the jacket to prove his point and – oh crap, he got me.

I stop at the entrance and smile, “Thanks, I like it a lot.” and end up talking to him for roughly 20 whole seconds before I realize once more that he’s trapped me, so I rush inside, trying to bide my time, knowing fully well that it is inevitable and that I’ll have to see him outside again and just… ugggghhhh.

I make my purchase and I brace myself as I step outside for the onslaught of words being thrown at me, though when I get outside, he’s just standing there grinning at me, “Have a good holiday,” I mutter my thanks and make my way to my car and peek back once. He starts pushing at the sign, making it spin around in an attempt to bring attention to it, he calls a little girl sweet heart and laughs with a man, he shouts encouraging words at a couple of runners, and when someone donates a dollar, his grin gets so wide it’s like it was given to him personally – and then it hits me:

He actually likes to do this charity work.

It’s cold out and getting dark, yet he’s grinning and for once I realize that these bell ringers (whether or not they do it with quite as much enthusiasm) take time out of their day to stand outside in the bitter cold and ring a stupid bell in hopes that people like you and me can find it in their hearts to dig through our purses and pockets for a couple of pennies. It’s not fun work, and getting ignored like they’re the plague can’t be much of a past time, yet they do it. It got me thinking: maybe I’m being way too weary of someone who is only attempting to commit a good deed.

Maybe next time you’re walking towards a store and hear that cursed bell, instead of rushing right in, we can take the time to smile at these volunteers, and on the way out, dump in a few coins so they know that maybe what they’re doing is all worth it in the end.

So let’s hear it for those Salvation Army bell ringers! Place those bells above your head and shake it like a polaroid picture!

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[Pictures from http://blog.salvationarmyusa.org/?tag=bell-ringer , http://southernersjournal.com/?tag=salvation-army-bell-ringer, and http://www.salvationarmyvail.org/]

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