Saturday, December 7, 2013

Bells ring "good will" one person at a time

      Sharing kindness with others doesn’t pick one season over another. It’s spontaneous with no strings attached.
     Take the businessman at LaGuardia Airport. He is in a hurry and it is evident by his purposeful stride. It is a normal day for him in transit, and no doubt, he will rest his weary bones in a New York area hotel overnight before another day of more of the same.
      However, he shows a little concern for a fellow human being. I certainly don’t ask anything of him, and I hope that I am not appearing too distracted in busy surroundings.
     The man sprints the last hundred yards to the baggage claim to grab my suitcase.
      “Here, let me take the mad dash for both of us,” he says with a smile on his face.
     Thanks to him, I won’t have to wait for the next go around on the conveyer belt. For good measure, he points me to the taxi stand outside.
     I am certain that my fellow traveler doesn’t think twice. It is a tiny blip on his radar scene. As for me, I am the recipient of a random act of thoughtfulness. I sleep well when my head touches the pillow.
      Perhaps, during the holiday season, which stretches out longer and longer like the worn out elastic on your waistband, sentiments run high and low. Glad tidings and seasonal music are nostalgic reminders of childhood homes by the fireside. The odd thing is that the further you age, the more idyllic the early scene appears in the memory of yesteryear.
     Folks are thrown into a tailspin chasing that elusive Christmas   of the past. It can’t be caught. All the recollections of family members departed and bouts of loneliness, confusion and just plain anger at the crazed consumerism work its attitude damage worse than ever during December.
      Take a breath of fresh air. Regroup. Do something positive for others.
     It’s a freezing cold December day, the wind is whipping and I am in hurry to get inside the store. Something tugs at me, though, and I stop and reach into my wallet. It only takes a second, and I am on my way to do what I had intended.
     The Salvation Army bell ringers are the lifesavers for hundreds of people that are struggling to make a go often through no fault of their own.
     My little contribution is a drop in the bucket, and I don’t mean to make light of it by the pun. The Salvation Army assists more than four-and-a-half million people during the Thanksgiving and Christmas time periods.
     In 1891, Salvation Army Captain Joseph McFee is sad because so many poor individuals in San Francisco are going hungry. During the holiday season, he is determined to provide a free Christmas dinner for an estimated 1,000 of the city’s poorest individuals. He only has one major hurdle to overcome - funding the project.
     As McFee ponders the issue, his thoughts wander back to his sailor days in Liverpool, England. He remembers how at Stage Landing, where the boats come in, there is a large, iron kettle called "Simpson's Pot" into which passers-by toss a coin or two to help the poor.
      Captain McFee places a similar pot at the Oakland Ferry Landing at the foot of Market Street. Beside the pot, he places a sign that reads, "Keep the Pot Boiling." He soon has the money to see that the needy people are properly fed at Christmas.
     Six years later, the kettle idea spreads from the west coast to the Boston area. That year, the combined effort nationwide results in 150,000 Christmas dinners for the needy. In 1901, kettle contributions in New York City provide funds for the first mammoth sit-down dinner in Madison Square Garden, a custom that continues for many years.
      Sure. I believe that there is no end to the graciousness of folks.      Take #AJO, for example. Twitter communicates the love worldwide, yet it begins in individual hearts.
     All fall I follow an evolving story at my local coffeehouse, MacFadden Coffee Company in Dansville. Owner, Jennifer White Howard thanks customers each day on the company’s Facebook page-people that “pay it forward” with a cup of pumpkin spice latte for the next person-a surprise making someone’s day a little brighter.
     Howard tells of teachers, bankers and local shopkeepers, along with travelers passing through Dansville, stepping up to the coffee bar catching the giving bug.
      It starts with Alyssa Josephine O'Neill (AJO) an outgoing teenager at an Erie, Pennsylvania high school. She is diagnosed with epilepsy in January 2012, but she doesn’t let that stop her from enjoying life.
     On September 3, Alyssa texts her mom asking if they can go to Starbucks so she could try a pumpkin spice latte for the first time, but they never get the chance. The next day, the 18-year-old passes away from an epileptic seizure.
     During their grieving, her parents think of something that they can do that is a little bit positive. They go to their local Starbucks and buy pumpkin spice lattes for themselves, as well as the next 40 customers. All they ask of the baristas is that they write #AJO on the cups, and explain to the customers why their drink is free.
     If you hear bells ringing in your head, take it as a gentle hint to get to work spreading goodness on earth. Don’t expect any recognition either, for that’s not the point.