Being in a strange city with little to entertain me, I often stuff six grocery bags into my purse, don rubber gloves, and take off walking to pick up trash. I chose a street I’ve cleared of debris before, as it was all littered up again.
I’ve chosen to do this for a month or more, and I’m sure drivers-by think I’m on work-release or chipping away at community service, or worse. I don’t care; it gives me something to do and makes me feel better. I like the environment to be, if not beautiful, at least clean. It doesn’t hurt me, or anyone else, to notice a need and help out.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a letter to the local Houston Chronicle editor stating my concern about their apparent lack of enforced littering policies, scheduled trash pickup, service organization projects, and just plain pride in their city. Writing helped me organize my frustrations, but with the world in a worse state of disarray than trash-strewn streets, my letter did not make the top of their priority publishing stack.
My routine is to fill one bag, tie it up, deposit it in the nearest trash can, and repeat. I get my steps in, feel better emotionally, and usually stop for lunch. It works for me.
For the first time, a person spoke to me. He came from behind, half scared me, walked around me, and said, “Doing God’s work?” I chuckled and said, “Yeah, I guess. That sounds good.” On he went.
When I came to an area that is always especially littered, I was carrying two full bags because I couldn’t find a dumpster and worked on filling the third. I now looked like a bag lady.
The same kind young man approached me from the front and said, “Here, let me take those. There is a container right up here.” He pointed behind him. I thanked him profusely, handed him the two full bags, and he also took a large tire tread I was dragging along.
I said, “I don’t know why this area is always so bad.”
“Because nobody cares! I’ve picked up some today, too; you inspired me.” Swoosh, he and my trash were gone.
Now, I know it doesn’t take much to please me, but I was impressed, hopeful, and smiling. I filled and tossed all six bags, walked a little taller, and felt a ton better.
I don’t know if my message today is about considering the world we share, doing what we can for our mental health, setting an example for others, or just being a kind human and helping out? Maybe, all of the above.
I know for sure that a spot on the earth is cleaner, kindness is always in fashion, and we can all find something to improve mental wellness.
Until the next time: Live while you live.
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