As much as I don’t like the snow and cold, I have to admit that there is a certain beauty to some types snowfalls. There are some days when the air is almost cold and dry, there is sunlight from the rising or closing of a day even though overhead there are clouds. The flakes that come down are large and lazy. You can almost watch each and every one independently drift its way to the ground and they occasionally catch that sunlight and refract a rainbow of color as they glisten upon their merry way.
This was not one of those days. The snow was coming down thick and hard but it was just warm enough that it was that nasty heavy stuff where you can barely tell if it is heavy rain or thick snow. Normally it is not a long walk from my parking spot to the front door of Wal Mart but on this last Saturday, five days before Christmas, the closest spot I could find was seemingly a half mile away. My left hand held shut the neck of my coat as the wet wind did it’s best to pull my hood away from my face. I kept my head down and bulled onward even as car after car sped by splattering my legs with muddy slush.
My easy Christmas presents were all bought. My family and those I knew and loved all had boxes wrapped with bows attached back at my house. The presents I still had to buy were not so much gifts as they were… reciprocal expectations. I know they will buying me something and it would be just rude not to buy something in return even though I have no idea what to get. I wonder how many of them are thinking the same thing. This isn’t the cheerful joy of giving, it is a chore that must be finished to maintain cultural expectations. Such cheerful thoughts grumble their way through my mind as I enter into a jam-packed box store to wander around with thousands of rushed customers in vain hope of inspiration before finally admitting defeat and making my way to the gift cards.
That is when I hear it. Through the wind and horns, in spite of the hood tight against ears that are growing numb, that bell rings out clear and joyful. I take about a half dozen other steps before I hear Drew singing “Joy To The World” loud and out of tune. He has a belly appropriate for the Santa outfit he is wearing. Unlike others who are hunched over and keep head down as they rush into or out of the store, Drew’s head is held high and his arms are out wide as he sings and rings that bell. I cannot help but smile when I catch his eyes and his grin, that is missing three teeth, grows even wider.
Drew was once a resident at the Salvation Army addiction recovery home. He is now clean and sober going on four years. He has his own place and a decent factory job but still volunteers to ring that bell as often as his work schedule will allow him. It doesn’t matter what the weather is like. It doesn’t matter if he has been standing there five minutes or five hours. If you enter Wal Mart when Drew is on the job, you will be greeted with a song and a smile. If you asked him (which I have) he would tell you that God, and the Salvation Army, have done so much for him how could he not do something for them in return.
I know that not every bell ringer is like Drew. Some are just filling a duty. Some have little more than a frown and a grumbled “Merry Christmas” to the few who can be bothered to drop a little loose change into their buckets. Honestly, if the Santa Claus of legend were real, I would imagine most of the time he would be much more like them than like Drew as he drops into chimney after dirty, ash filled chimney to drop off presents for all those ungrateful louts. You and I both know that those kids most deserving of coal are usually the ones ending up with the biggest and most expensive presents. Beyond the dirty chimneys, unreasonable time deadline, and ungrateful brats, even the so called good aspects become a chore. I don’t care how much room is in that big belly of his, how many cookies can a man eat before he starts to grow nauseous? How much milk can a man drink before the lactic acid starts to do awfully cruel things in revolt? Yet the poor guy cannot stop. Each one must be eaten. How many millions of homes can he visit before that Christmas cheer turns into a winter chore?
Giving is not always fun. You and I know it as our budget shrinks and that day (or party) draws ever closer. Most of those bell ringers not named Drew know it too. This song was specifically written to draw our attention to the time these bell ringers are giving up so that you can have an opportunity to give to an organization whose primary purpose is to give towards the physical and spiritual needs or the poorest, the neediest, and marginalized in our communities. So next time you hear those Silver Bells outside your local Target, Wal-Mart, or mall stop. Shake that Santa’s hand and tell them thank you. Then open up your wallet and give the biggest bill you have left. You will be giving to someone who has a much greater need than that coworker down the hall you don’t really like and barely even know.