Being Thankful for Compassion

ring a ling a ling a ling a ling….

ring a ling a ling a ling a ling……

ring a ling a ling a ling a ling a ling……

It’s that time of year.

Nope, not “Jingle Bells” ad nauseum.  Not “Silver Bells.”  Or “Hark Hear the Bells.”

It’s the time for the Salvation Army bucket-brigade and the bell ringers who quietly and persistently invite us to dig into our pockets and scrape around for spare change and drop it into the bucket. Accept the thanks, the holiday well wishes.

I’m not trying to satirize these actions.  I’M NOT!  In fact, I wholly support the Salvation Army bucket-brigade and will deliberately keep cash in my car/in my wallet/in my pocket so that I can put the money in no matter where I am.  And if I don’t, so help me God, the Girl will destroy me because she loves putting money in the bucket.

I’m thinking about Robert Fulghum and one of his essays in which he talked about being the bell ringer, about how his father would deliberately dress him (Fulghum, the child) up in ratty clothes, give him the bell, and then step to the side to the let the child do his magic.  Fulghum talked about how he slung the bell from side to side, imploring the people to help the “Little Baby Jesus.”  And by the end of the essay, he suggested that if people callously walked by him and his grandchildren doing the same that he would….I don’t remember.  Slug them?  Hit them in the head with the bell?

I’m a lot like Fulghum.  I say a lot of things like that and never mean it.  I’m as harmful as a marshmallow.  And chubby like one too….

Today, I was a pseudo-witness to a powerfully compassionate act.  And out of respect for everyone involved, I’m not going to say anything or write anything that will go into particulars.  But I am going to take some time to write about the emotional effect of what I saw….of what I personally experienced.

I have referred to Christmas as “The Great Disappointment” because I work so hard (insert emotional soundtrack here…something that would go with a victim-montage in a movie) to make everyone happy (see me wiping my poor brow with my ragged handkerchief?).  And no one values me or my labor….


God, I’m so self-righteous, I want to barf.

And I forget that the kindness of others is the greatest gift that I can stand as witness to or receive.

My students have been giving me gifts, ranging from delicious food to gift cards.  And I’m grateful.

They didn’t have to do this.  I really didn’t earn these gifts.  I was doing my job because I want to do my job and they happened to be my clients.  I don’t give my dentist or my doctor a gift for doing a good job.  I pay my bills and don’t bite them/punch them when they give me shots or poke a little too hard at something sensitive.  Maybe I’m just a really horrible person for not going out and buying my doctor or dentist presents….

Maybe I need to…..

So, yeah.  My students have been giving me gifts.  And I’m flabbergasted because they are really nice gifts and I don’t feel like I have earned them….

And it’s really nice to be on the receiving end of all these kindness and thoughtfulness.

But then, today, I watched an exchange of kindness and reception, of goodness without thought for oneself.  And I can’t go further than that.  I really can’t.  And I really want to…

Because we forget that Christmas really isn’t about going to the stores and swiping those credit cards.  It’s about choosing to stop at the bucket and dumping in the handful of change and not picking out the silver and just dumping the pennies.

It’s about giving up the silver too.

Jesus was betrayed for thirty pieces of silver.

For that and so much more, we can halt the betrayal and create kindness and compassion.  We can pull the lint off of the bits and pieces of monetary flotsam that sits in our pockets and just do something nice for someone else.

When the Boy Scouts got off of the subway in DC on Saturday, several boys went over to the ticket machines and gave away their day-passes.  The boys were done, were getting ready to go back home.  They had no further need for their passes and, without thought, gave them to the people who were about to spend their money.

“Pay it forward,” the boys said.  They needed no thanks.

“Just pay it forward.”

I have former students who will occasionally bring food to the school because we have an in-house food bank.  They told me about the days they came to school hungry and because we had a small collection of food for breakfasts and lunches, these young men were able to eat that day.  Otherwise, their meals would consist of water…maybe condiment packages unless a friend or someone gave them money for a school lunch.

These young men were told they were no good, that they were never going to succeed.  They are.  And they are giving back.

And that’s what this season…what every season…every month…every day needs to be about.  Not this whole, What’s in it for me attitude (I’m kind of embarrassed right now after the stupid “Great Disappointment” pity-party….excuse me while I take a moment and collect my’s somewhere on the floor….).

Today, I witnessed give and receive.

Not give and take.

Give and receive.  In which one person was the beneficiary and the other person returned to the quiet shadows and let the world continue to do its spinning motion.

There were no flashing paparazzi cameras.  No parades.  No marching band with dancing cheerleaders and pom-poms or local television camera crews.

There were no circles of people saying “aaaahhhh” and covering their mouths with the tips of their fingers to hold back tears.

It was just…quiet.  Quiet enough that, if you listened, you might hear a bell ringing at a local Wal Mart.

Someone’s standing outside, right now.  Where I am, it’s pouring down rain.  And someone’s outside, in the rain, ringing a bell.  Not just for the “Little Baby Jesus” or the men and women who are “down on their luck.”

Because “being down on their luck” doesn’t quite have the same ring (sorry…pun intended) as that sense of desperation.  Like the month when I lived off of thirty-five dollars because that’s all the money I had.  Like the many months when I prayed to get to the next paycheck because the Boy or the Girl were constantly sick and health insurance is a wonderful thing but money runs pretty thin when I was still a fairly new teacher with a car payment and a house payment and day-care payments and bills and now doctor visits and prescription medicines and nebulizers…

One time, the bell ringer gave the Girl the bell.  She had just put money in the bucket and the ringer offered her a candy cane.  She turned down the treat and asked for the bell.  And for the few seconds it was in her grip, she violently slug that thing from side to side.

My daughter is anything but fragile.

Or delicate.

And not that lady-like.

She is strong-willed and stubborn and a rock of a woman.  And she will eventually be a powerful leader who will show the world what it means to be an independent, intelligent, resourceful woman.

At the same time, she cares…very deeply, for others.  And when she stood in the cold and rang the bell as loudly as she could, I saw the indomitable spirit within her, and I was thrilled that she was doing this for good, for the good of others.

I am thankful for the goodness of others, for the compassion one will show to another person.  Because all of my petty problems, my little inconveniences are stripped away and all that is left is the rawness of me.  And I see that, in the end, I still want to be someone who wants to live for and dedicate myself towards the good of others.

But if you ever see a strong-willed girl standing next to the Salvation Army bucket, swinging the bell like it was a weapon of war, I highly advise you to stop and drop in your coins (all of them…not just the copper) and maybe even a few bills.

I’ll let her loose on you if you don’t….


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