Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Buckets and Bells

So now that Thanksgiving is over and done,
Christmas is everywhere.

The lights, the trees,
the occasional flakes of snow...
Carols, candy canes, and Santas
greet our senses.

This time last year, it was getting to the point
where I dreaded going out at all.
I just stayed in my house and wondered
where it all got so crazy.

Don't get me wrong-
I love the sights and sounds and
spirit of the season.

It's just that I felt
There, I said it.
But, please, let me explain.

It all started when I skipped into a local
department store last year,
eager and ready to get some
Christmas shopping done.
My list was fairy long, but relatively easy,
and luckily I had saved awhile
in order to splurge on special items.

I walked out with a couple of large bags,
my car keys ready and jingling,
and a satisfied smile on my face.

Then I heard it.
The Salvation Army bell.
"Clang"..Clang".. Clang".. it went.

There behind the big red bucket
was a lady bundled head to toe-
shivering in the wind
and staring directly at me.
She shot me a
"I know you have a purse full of change" look,
and then focused on my bags
with a "You can afford a five easily".

My smile faded to terror.
I pretended to have difficulty
shifting my bags
and shielded my eyes with my free hand
as though I was searching for my car.

The lady wasn't buying it.
She practically followed me
down the sidewalk with her clanging bell
until I spun out of the parking lot and
into the darkness of the evening.

The guilt began to hit me as
I prepared to sleep that night.
I tossed and turned and
the guilt overflowed.

Seriously, I am not a selfish person.
I love seeing needy people get things.

I used to cry every time Bob Barker
gave away a car in the Showcase Showdown.
And Ty Pennington gets my tears rolling
whenever he turns an old shack into
a gorgeous mansion for some good Samaritan.

But I had yet to define how it feels
to stuff money in a bucket for someone
you never really see
or aren't quite sure even exists.

Not only did I have an enormous guilt complex,
but I must admit,
I was a little embarrassed.

I didn't know how to act.
It's just that my Mom never taught me
the proper Salvation Army etiquette.

How much do you give?
Do you flash the big bills or be discreet?

Is it kosher to dig dirty pennies
from the bottom of your purse?
Can you say "I gave at the office"?

Do you put it directly in the bucket
or the mitten-covered hand of the bell ringer?

See- it's all so difficult- so very vague!
No one had ever come forth with the rules.
No one had ever set the bar.

Then, to make matters worse,
there's another bell ringer on
the next block,
at the next store,
the mall entrance, the mall exit,
the grocery, the bank,
the beauty shop, and the gas station.

Do you ignore them all?
Do you give each one a quarter? A dollar?

I guess since I am admitting this all to you,
I might as well come clean.

You know those little address labels
they send to you in the mail
with an enclosed envelope for your donation?
Well, I throw the envelope away
and use the labels.

Guilt... guilt...guilt.

And, okay, okay-I also admit
I always say "No"
to the cashier at KMart when they
ask if I want to donate a dollar
to a good cause.
I mean, who is going to see that cardboard
star with my name on it
along with the other 50,000 stars
plastered on the plate glass windows?

Christmas had made a basket case out of me.
Doctor Phil could have had an entire show
based on my Salvation Army insecurities.

But, I decided I will make the best
of the situation.
I am writing a book.

I am doing tons of research,
studying graphs and charts,
conducting interviews
and securing secret surveillance.

My book will be out next Christmas
and you'll find it wherever you
find a bell and a bucket.
Along with me, you will never
need to feel guilty again.

I've not decided on a title yet.
It's going to be
Donating to the Salvation Army FOR DUMMIES.
Proper Etiquette
for the Charity Challenged.

Never be afraid of the "Clang, Clang, Clang" again...