After I found my rhythm the tinny clinking of the bell put me in a meditative mood, a state of Christmas Zen.
Manning a red bucket for the Salvation Army is something everybody should do at least once. Not only do you get that warm, gooey feeling of doing good but it is also a wonderful opportunity for people watching.
When else do you get an excuse to just stand still in a swirling crowd, ringing a bell and trying to guess who's been naughty and who's been nice?
The Yule Tide crowd at any mall in the country at this time in the season is diverse and busy, so it always surprises me how many people still pause, or even go out of their way, to give a little something. Sometimes I even noticed some $5 bills being stuffed into the famous red bucket and when people put coins in they usually poured in a handful.
"Thank you so very much and Merry Christmas," I said to each one.
Some of them respond but many either ignore me or they barely spare me a nod. I am but a vessel, after all, a mere temporary agent of the greater good.
One woman, gray and stooped, actually apologized for only having a few coins to give. When does that happen?
The shift on the bell is for two hours, and I arrived early. I had come prepared to stand outside in the cold, with layers of clothes that gradually melted away in the bright sun that bore down on me with greater power than the chilling breeze. I finally obtained equilibrium in a long sleeve T-shirt and fleece vest.
One man had to stop and put down the fat goody bags he was carrying in order to scoop some money out of his wallet. He talked about having adopted a child in the Salvation Army's Angel Tree program and how much he enjoyed buying presents for this child he would never meet.
We agreed to keep up the good work and parted our merry ways.
Something went wrong on one family shopping trip. Mom came storming out, fussing at her oldest of four children while struggling to pull her car keys from her purse. The children were ordered to stay while Mom stomped off to the car.
The children lingered, one little girl walking boldly up to gaze openly at the bucket and then at me. Finally they huddled together and the girl and an older sister managed to produce a couple of bills that they slid shyly into the bucket.
Mom returned, still steaming, and ushered her crew back into the Church of Commerce.
I tried to recognize the different languages that floated by. Spanish is easy, but one group, a 40-something couple with Grandma and Grandpa in tow, spoke something that might have been Portuguese or Greek as far as I knew.
I practiced saying "feliz navidad" under my breath but never had a chance to try it on a Spanish speaking person.
My position was near a bank of mirrored windows and I would stand rapt with the sight of a real-time two-dimensional re-creation of the world around me. The chiming bell and chorus of Merry Christmases were underscored by occasional outbursts from the store's shoplifting security system that seemed to be activating randomly.
Christmas just never gets old for me.
Ed Brock covers public safety and municipalities for the News Daily. He may be reached at (770) 478-5753 ext. 254 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.