Saturday, May 10, 2008

Judgment and Joy: Confessions of a litter gatherer

The mind goes to strange places on a SOLV litter-collection patrol as I was this morning.

Our stretch of road was Capitol Highway downhill from Terwilliger and then along busy Barbur Boulevard.

It can be treacherous in places, with cars whisking by just inches from you and your bulging litter bag. So treacherous, in fact, that the mind of a fellow litter-picker-upper wandered to his obituary and what it might say if a errant, speeding car instantly turned him into so much human litter.

Occasionally I assumed the motorists perspective. I thought of myself as a kind of strange roadside attraction. I even imagined motorists wanting to thank us. Then I thanked them for not thanking us. A well-meaning honk would simply startle and distract.

I confess that I spent much of my time warding off anger. Each piece of litter represented a fellow human being’s neglect and irresponsibility. As strange as it seems, a few hundred pieces of litter can lead to a real snit.

I could feel that happening, particularly when a cigarette butt or a Styrofoam peanut would slip from the tentative grasp of my extension arm grabber. So much of the litter represented addiction. A beer can, a filter tipped butt, even a candy wrapper.

I couldn’t get too huffy because I share some of this addictions; it’s just that I don’t leave a trail of evidence behind for all to see.

I also imagined humanoid archeologists, centuries from now, sifting through some Barbur Boulevard detritus for artifacts. This very litter I was jamming into my white SOLV bag would be signs of our times. What would those scientific scavengers of the 25th Century conclude about us?

It would depend a lot on them and where our future, and their past, had delivered them. Digging along four-lane highways and striking a battered Mercedes grill (yes, I found one) or a hubcap (I snagged two), they might think we traveled too fast or too slow. Or too much or too extravagantly. Or carelessly or dangerously.

Just as I did this morning, eons from now they would find mounds of litter (garbage really) near the trailheads leading to the homeless camps tucked in the woods between Barbur and Terwilliger. What is litter to the homeless, many of them hounded by demons of one sort or another? How angry could I be with them? I thought that I could be among them — especially if I continued for days gathering wrappers and bottles and hubcaps along the roadside. Ultimately a maddening task. Their daily search for survival (warmth, food, love) is likely as maddening.

As I felt my anger building I thought of something my wife shared with me last week as we were stuck on a shuttle bus in Las Vegas traffic (don’t ask). She had heard it from her yoga instructor. “Remember,” she said, “joy is whatever is in the present moment minus our opinions about it.”

I decided to take the advice. I decided to just pick up the litter. Never mind why it was there, who left it or what 25th Century archeologists would think of it or of us.

Just — pick — it — up — and — put — it — in — the — bag.

Just — pick — it — up — and — put — it — in — the — bag.

Just — pick — it — up — and — put — it — in — the — bag.

Ah, the joy of it all!

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Blogger St. James P.R.I.D.E. said...

Nice post covering the non-glamorous job of picking up litter. Somewhat like you, I can barely stomach the thought that people actually (and deliberately) toss stuff from their car window and think it's gone! A glass bottle carelessly tossed along a roadway can still be there 500 years from now...unless caring, civic-minded folk pick it up. Thanks for a good read, Steve Cherry. Visit my blog at your convenience.

4:54 AM  

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