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Every Time a Bell Rings

Holiday commercials warm the television screen. I don't mind them. In fact, I generally find them soothing, except for the Salvation Army this year. Each time the bell ringer jingles, my dog barks. To most of the television audience, those hand bells mean giving. To Bagel, they mean someone is at the door, someone she isn't expecting, someone she doesn't know, much less what they want.

Ironically, Bagel's bark says more than she intends. Each time the commercial comes on, she barks. She doesn't learn. The bell rings and the result is the same. Her bark, like much holiday giving, is a Pavlov dog, excuse the irony, response that many of us experience during the holiday season.

In light of this, I suggest two books unrelated to anything holding court for the months of November and December for an alternative kind of reflection on giving.

Paterson, Katherine. (2017). My Brigadista Year. Somerville: Candlewick Press.

Read a full summary on

Anthony, Lawrence. (2009). The Elephant Whisperer: My Life with the Herd in the

African Wild. New York City: Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s Press.

Read a full summary on

I recommend them for the following reasons:

Giving means being humble and knowing that you are not doing anything heroic or even admirable for the recipient all of the time. But you are willing to learn alongside someone you never spent time with before, and observe the kinds of hardships as commonplace to them as the possibly unrelated items you were told to give.

Giving cannot be transient. Even though many organizations ask for things, what they need are hands, ears and eyes to train beyond a 1, 2, 3 step process. In order to participate, you must be able to describe who you are and why you are there doing what you are doing. Giving often stretches out beyond one time slot on a list. It involves more waiting than watching, and doing something else without an apparent value while you’re waiting to be asked for the kinds of things only long term relationships can buy.

I admit that I rang bells. I gave to organizations

“Because I felt bad”

“Because it was the ‘right’ thing to do”

“Because. . . for an unending list of generalizations.”

The organizations I used to blindly solicit for, that I gave a direct line to my credit card for monthly withdrawals, even without bells, no longer speak to me beyond the slick, donor brochures. My credit card expires in December. To me this is a sign to be more dedicated and less reactionary in my giving than my dog every time she hears a bell ring.

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