A few lessons from the bell

Published 10:48 am Wednesday, December 11, 2013

by Res Spears

A two-hour shift as a volunteer bell-ringer at the North Main Street Walmart on behalf of the Salvation Army on Saturday was an educational experience and a blessing beyond what I had expected.

Here are a few of the things I learned (along with some references for more information on the lessons):

Folks who give seem to be happier than those who don’t. Almost nobody failed to smile who stuffed bills or dropped coins into the kettle. They were genuinely happy to help the Salvation Army’s cause, and many of them thanked me (!) for what I was doing. Their giving spirit energized me, but it also seemed to energize them.

“Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.” (Proverbs 11:25)

Representing the other side of the coin were those who hurried past as they adopted the “I’ve-got-somewhere-to-be-and-I-don’t-have-time-to-dig-for-change” face or suddenly found reasons to study their phones. I’m not judging. I know that face well, because I’ve worn it myself. Having seen it from the other side of the bell, though, I think I’ll try to retire it permanently this year.

“Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse.” (Proverbs 28:27)

Whether they gave or not, I was just happy to smile and say hello to most folks. That’s not the kind of society we live in anymore, and it was probably only the unusual situation that changed me from the average, hurried, often self-involved American into a “Hello, how are you doing today?” machine.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34)

Children can be wonderfully generous. More than anyone else who dropped money into the kettle while I rang the bell on Saturday, the children seemed to take the greatest pleasure in it.

More often than not, they were using money they’d been given by a family member, but for the most part even those children who didn’t donate had a big smile to give, at least.

“And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:2-3)

In the right context, even the single note of a Salvation Army bell can be musical. I’ve been guilty of thinking of the bells as irritating at various low points in my life, and I was worried how I’d hold up to two hours of close-quarters clanging. As I headed to my volunteer assignment, I even wondered whether I should have brought earplugs. But I had a great time mixing up the cadence of my little bell, and I even convinced one boy to agree with me that I had pretty good rhythm. My wife will never believe it. “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.” (Psalm 100:1)

Res Spears is managing editor of the Suffolk News-Herald and a former staff writer and editor for The Tidewater News. His email is res.spears@suffolknewsherald.com.