For the record, I did not cry in Target

There is a brief moment when you know you are on the verge of crying but you decide not to surrender. You feel the emotion simmer to the surface, the moisture wells in the eyes, and the face begins to crinkle. It takes a conscious effort to send the tears back to their source, and shake off the tingly feeling that could easily betray your cool demeanor. You normally only have this kind of control for the “easy cry” moments, like when you see that commercial for Budweiser where the Clydesdale horse recognizes his trainer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WuAAXCOUH6Q

In case you didn’t respond normally to this famous Super Bowl spot, I will tell you that the facial twinges should start occuring as soon as the parade is over. You don’t have to cry, but you know you want to.

It is this exact same twinge that hit me at 8:30am yesterday in Target while shopping for a child I don’t know, an 8-year old boy named Chris who was part of the Salvation Army’s “Angel Tree” program. Kids in need tell the Salvation Army what they would like for Christmas, and the information is put on a card so that people can “adopt” them for the holiday. If you take an angel card off of a tree on display at any participating company, you are essentially agreeing to take ownership of that child’s Christmas morning.

So in the case of Chris, I had ownership of his holiday happiness and the card informed me that his happiness hinged on my decision to sport out a train set . Target had a starter kit, but upon close inspection, I realized that it only included the track and depot. I had to invest more for the trains and other accoutrements essential for a fun Christmas morning (including 9 AAA batteries).

This was no problem for me, as I was prepared to spend whatever was necessary for Chris, although I knew nothing about him outside of his affinity for trains. After these decisions were made, I picked up an outfit, careful to find something that looked cool, although I was unsure of his style. Somewhere in the process of selecting these presents in the early-morning quiet of my favorite Target (aka “the Mothership”), I got so wrapped up in what his story might be, that I started to become sad. Why is Chris in need, and have I done enough to help make this Christmas special? Will he like what I have selected? Will he be elated that there is so much, or sad that there is not more? I picked up a couple of smaller items, including a board game he could play with his family, in the hopes that there is one who would be willing to participate.

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Train set for Chris

And then the facial twinges started and the tears leaked into my eyes. I quickly pushed them back, so that nobody would know that Chris had snuck into my heart, just a bit, just like the Clydesdale horse. This has happened before during Angel Tree shopping, which is a different charitable experience from donating to “Toys for Tots” or similar toy drives, because you have basic details regarding the child for whom you are shopping. And because I’ve coordinated enough of my company’s Angel Tree programs, I also know how to tell if Chris has a sibling. I often try to make sure siblings have the same number of gifts, the way my mom did for me and my sisters when we were little and easily jealous of one another.

Even a little bit of information is just dangerous enough to make you feel involved. This emotional connection, however brief and slight, is not necessarily good or bad, but certainly is an integral part of the holiday experience for many donors. This is certainly true for me. I would no more let the month of December come and go without buying toys for kids like Chris, than I would let it come and go without buying a gift for my mom. I just have to be sure to be on the alert for the signs that I am about to start crying in Target. For the record, on this occasion, I was able to hold it together. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

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