I recently ventured over to Hobby Lobby to pick up four spools of ribbon. It goes without saying, Hobby Lobby in December is Dante’s seventh circle of hell. There’s a sign over the store entrance: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” [Not really. But there should be.]
My quest for four spools took me 40 minutes. Miraculously, there was only one woman ahead of me in the check-out line, but she seemed to be purchasing great quantities of sequins.
I think she may have been paying for them one at a time.
I sweated in my goose down parka. I breathed the serenity prayer. I channeled baby Jesus.
By the time I burst out the double doors all sticky with sweat, the biting cold that hit my face actually felt good. But as I scurried toward my car, I noticed the Salvation Army bell ringer standing in front of the store’s entrance. She looked miserable, her cheeks flushed scarlet, her breath blowing great plumes of mist into the air as she rang the bell and held out miniature candy canes in her bulky mittened hands.
The moment was ripe for a good deed.
You see, at the start of Advent I’d hatched a brilliant plan. I would do “one small thing in great love” for every one of the 24 days leading up to Christmas. As Mother Teresa once said, “None of us can do great things, but we can all do small things with great love.” It seemed like a lovely plan, all Christmassy and Peace-on Earth-Goodwill-to-Men. I couldn’t wait to get started.
But the problem is, I’m no Mother Teresa.
It was 12 noon the moment I decided to buy the Salvation Army bell-ringer a hot chocolate, which meant that every Christmas shopper and her mother, sister and Great Aunt from Gothenburg was already in the drive-thru line at the McDonald’s across the parking lot (and yes, if you must know, I drove. It was only 800 yards, but it was 8 degrees outside and I’m no fool).
I thought the cashier’s head might pop off when I ordered a single hot chocolate during the mad lunch rush. I thought my head might pop off when, 15 minutes later, I was still waiting for the hot chocolate, channeling baby Jesus again and humming “Away in the Manger” under my breath.
Finally, steaming cup in hand, I drove back across the parking toward Hobby Lobby. You should know, if Hobby Lobby itself is the seventh circle of hell during the Christmas season, the Hobby Lobby parking lot is the ninth circle.
That’s the inner circle, people — the pure, undiluted essence of hell.
I pulled over to the side of the lane, clicked on my hazards and prepared to dash down the sidewalk to hand over the hot chocolate when suddenly, I stopped. There were now two, TWO, Salvation Army bell-ringers standing outside Hobby Lobby – the same woman I’d seen 20 minutes earlier and another lady, buttoned up to her eyebrows in plaid parka.
One cup of hot chocolate. Two Salvation Army bell ringers.
I made an executive decision as I stood on the sidewalk with the cup in my hand and my car hazards flashing as traffic unfurled in an angry snarl behind me: I was not going to navigate the ninth circle of hell and the McDonald’s line and the irritable McDonald’s cashier and the ninth circle of hell again to retrieve a second cup of hot chocolate.
One cup was all the Great Love I had in me.
I approached the two ladies, held out the single cup of hot chocolate and explained how there’d only been one of them 20 minutes before. I laughed sheepishly and suggested that if they didn’t have germs, maybe they could share the one cup.
The best part of this story? The ladies were thrilled. It was like I’d just handed over two full-length ermine fur coats instead of one lousy cup of McDonald’s hot chocolate. They laughed at my story and patted me on the back and thanked me 12 times.
And then I dashed back to my car, waved an apology to the traffic backed up behind me, and pulled into the ninth circle of hell again. It’s true, I’m no Mother Teresa. But one small thing done in (slightly irritable) love? That I can do.