April 22, 2019

Getting Our Hands Dirty

On the rare occasion that my husband and I take a lunch break at the same time, we will sometimes go for a walk. This happened today and we were excited to take a few minutes to get outside and do something good for ourselves. 
The path we usually walk is a one-mile figure eight loop at a nearby park. We were a quarter of the way around when I started seeing large amounts of litter scattered around the path. The more we walked, the more litter we saw.

Litter really bugs me. I don't understand the thinking behind tossing something aside for someone else to clean up. Especially when there are trash cans around. The more I thought about it, the madder I was getting. 

As we rounded the trail loop, something white and billowy caught my eye. It was an empty grocery bag. 

"Oh boy," my hubs said. "I know what happens next." He laughed as I grabbed the bag off the ground...knowing it would be the perfect thing in which to collect all the litter we were seeing! I asked him how he knew I was going to do that, and he said he just knew because he knows me. 

He was chivalrous enough to carry the bag for me as we continued our walk, now having a receptacle to collect the litter. Then I randomly remembered that it's Earth Day, and felt like our small act was for a good cause. 

As we passed a runner who saw what we were doing, he shouted "Y'all are awesome!" which felt pretty good. 

I promise I'm not sharing this to make you think we are some kinda civic heroes because we're not. But there is a point to my story. 

We filled and emptied the grocery bag three times with litter and then for a substantial pile, we dragged a rolling trash can over and picked that up as well. Afterward, I looked around at the (mostly) litter-free area and enjoyed the sight of grass, flowers and sky. 

I'm not gonna lie....it felt good to do something good. Sometimes this is reward enough. 

But just beyond the good feeling was a tinge of something else....let's call it self-righteousness. 

A tinge that prompted me to think thoughts that began with: 

I cannot imagine....throwing my trash down on the ground

What kind of person just....leaves their garbage for someone else to clean up?

I would never be the kind of person who....throws down litter in a beautiful park 

Most of us would probably agree that tossing trash out the window or throwing it down on the ground is wrong. We might also agree that picking it up is right. 

But if doing the right thing leads us to feel self-righteous, we've completely missed the point. I feel certain this can apply in so many areas. 

Let me say it again: 

If we only do what's right because it makes us feel self-righteous, we've completely missed the point. 

If doing the so-called right thing makes us think we can sit in judgment of others who are so-called wrong, then we are so-called mistaken. 

It's impossible to get inside anyone else's head. We don't know why people do the things they do. We don't know what they are struggling with, what kind of gut-wrenching challenges they are up against, and what lies they've been told or led to believe that have shaped their every pattern, behavior and thought process. 

We give ourselves the benefit of every doubt, but how often are we so quick to judge the actions of others because they are doing something that we'd supposedly never do? 

Some might say I have every right to judge them....since I was the one touching all their dirty trash and dragging around a giant garbage can on what was supposed to be a leisurely lunch walk. But it doesn't work this way. Judging others was never our right. 

What we can do is try to help. To show love. To make people feel less alone. To pitch in and get our hands dirty when it will make someone else's struggle a little easier or help them experience a bit more beauty.