Saturday, January 22, 2011

In praise of trash

This past week I had a radiator replaced on my Chevy truck. Not exactly the kind of thing I wanted to do on a holiday, but what else can one do? And anytime I have a block of three to four hours to do something, I always have a good book with me to pass the time. This time, it was Peter Damian Belisle's The Language of Silence, a great book on monastic solitude which I will review in a later article.  Perhaps it had something to do with the monastic stress on "awareness" but something strange happened. Let me share it with you.

To pass the time of day, I parked myself at one of the local bus stops-to get out of the sun-and to have a place where I could read some of Belisle's wonderful book. While reading, I noted that several people stopped by to sort through a nearby trashcan, searching for bottles, cans, anything they could redeem for cash. Even though I was reading, I kept my inner eye on what was taking place around me. It was fascinating! The people didn't even seem to notice (or care) that I was there. One person even sorted through the trash can, picking out odd letters and notes, which he read and kept, and then went on his way.

This got me to thinking. What struck me was how such an activity-people sorting through trash-has now become an accepted part of American life. I would even go onto venture that can diving is now part of one's everyday experience. This was not so in the past, when such behavior was seen as "odd" but now I've noticed how frequent it is to see people from many different social and ethnic backgrounds, searching for bottles and cans, pushing shopping carts full of bottles, or to be seen walking with plastic bags, and doing whatever it takes, just to get by and make a few extra dollars.  Trash diving is now the norm. No doubt it is a sign of the difficult economic and social times we now live in. I can remember a time-not long ago-when I heard about this kind of thing in far away places like India, or Dickens's London, where people sort through all the trash looking for any and all items of value. But now I am sad to say that such practices  happen in the USA as well. These are interesting times indeed!

These are difficult economic times, and people will do whatever they need to do in order to survive, so we should not be surprised. Most importantly of all, these experiences reminded me that these persons, these "trash pickers" are people too, who are made in God's image. They are people with whom I have something in common, and not strangers. And even though some might suffer from mental illness or have an addiction, they are of great value. They are my brothers and sisters!

I have experienced this on a local level for years. At St. Aidan's Church for example, there is an individual who calls himself "the bottle and can man" (he even has a business card with that printed on it) and one of the things he does is recycle. He is willing to go anywhere at any time, just to make a few extra dollars, and collect empty bottles and cans. Bless that man, and bless those who are merely trying to get by. God's word reminds us that these folks are our extended family, and that it is our responsbility to reach out to them, care for them, and be Christ's heart and hands. Curious, isn't it, that in reaching out to the stranger and the poor, that we find the face and presence of Christ. Our natural inclination might be to run or turn our back from such a person. Yet the divine imperative is to reach out.

Coming to a trash can near you! A human being trying to survive. And coming to you, the wonderful opportunity to experience God's grace. Do the right thing and show that person the respect and dignity they deserve. In so doing, you will open yourself to the great gift of God's presence.

1 comment:

  1. "Coming to a trash can near you! A human being trying to survive."

    Excellent couple of sentences!