Isn’t it right there in my file? I was assigned to be a bell ringer for the Salvation Army.
I know, ironic, isn’t it?
Six times total. Four hour shifts each time.
I’m not sure I learned anything. The experience further reinforced what I already knew.
That the “have-nots” are invisible to many people. That the “haves” feel entitled.
I didn’t just snap out. I recognized it when I was in college. I would take the train through Suburban Station and make a connection to the Broad Street Subway. Sometimes I’d give money to the blind guitar player. Once I accidentally gave my train fare and had to call my dad to come pick me up because I didn’t have the nerve to ask for some of the money back.
It bothered me that with so many working people, the “haves,” passing through the station, that there were still the “have-nots.” At Christmas time the ringing of the Salvation Army bell drove me nuts. Often I would give every extra cent I had. I kept thinking that if everyone gave his or her extra, the bell would stop.
Well, I guess you can’t force people to give, but that wasn’t what I was doing.
I didn’t assault anyone. I was just trying to get them to see the others.
The poor, the homeless, the disenfranchised, the invisible.
How could they not see them? How could they not hear it? I could hear the bell before I even entered the station and the sound would reverberate far into the tunnels. As if that weren’t enough, they were everywhere. As soon as you surfaced from the catacombs of the station, there would be more bell ringers on almost every corner. I kept thinking that if I gave all I could, how could it not be enough? How much would we, I, have to give to get the bell to stop ringing?
As I grew into adulthood, I still heard the bell. For my birthday and Christmas I would request that family and friends give to charities instead of getting me sweaters (how many sweaters is too many? I was up to 33.) For my 40th birthday I registered with Heifer and had people buy llamas and goats and pigs to help the less fortunate. At Christmas I would ask for people to come with me downtown with sandwiches and thermoses of coffee to feed the homeless. Many different people joined us over the years. It’s important that people not just write a check and give blindly but participate and actually look in the face of the poor, connect with them.
It actually happens more than you think. I remember one time I was conversing with a homeless man who had had his gloves stolen at the shelter. At some point during our conversation, I had this epiphany. He was just like me. He seemed lucid and “normal” and didn’t seem to be on anything. I remember thinking this could be me. No one plans to be homeless. You never know what life is going to bring you. All of the sudden the veil between “us” and “them” became transparent.
So am I good here? It was only an air horn after all. If it gets people’s attention….. Okay, okay, I’m just kidding.