Garbage Pickups and Putdowns


Garbage collection and recycling days can differ for many reasons, not the least of which is location, location, location. I recall the first time I visited a recreational theme park and discovered there were no garbage collections at all. There were trash cans conveniently placed by eatery stations but no one was hired to empty them because they never got full. Why? Because the cans had fake bottoms attached to underground suction tubes that automatically whisked the debris away at regular intervals. I cannot remember enjoying a cleaner public space, totally free of stains, swill and stench. Other locations are not as advanced.

On our block in New York City, garbage is collected by one company three times a week, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and recycling is collected by a different company once a week on the same day as the third garbage haul. Last Thursday night I dutifully had both the opaque gray garbage bags and the clear plastic recycling bags full of cans, bottles and paper, stacked neatly by the curb and ready for their respective pickups early Friday morning. Well before dawn, the recyclables had been collected but the trash bags were still there. Adding insult to injury, all the waste was gone from in front of the neighbors’ stoops but only ours remained. To my dismay and growing resentment, our garbage stayed on the sidewalk all day Friday, all day Saturday and was still sitting there on Sunday morning. I was furious and I was determined to make phone calls until I could give some city administrator a piece of my mind.

As my outrage was mounting toward the insects that were gathering, a seasoned, less flappable neighbor happened along. “Just look at this mess,” I complained through my fogging glasses and perspiring facemask, while pointing at the rapidly decaying heap of refuse. “Someone is going to hear about this even if I have to dance on a supervisor’s desk for what those clowns did to us.”

“Calm down,” came my wise bystander’s reply. “This is New York. People rarely do anything on purpose here. Someone slipped up. Someone got distracted. Someone thought the work was done correctly and didn’t look back to double check. Or maybe someone got sick or some mechanical glitch messed up the works. I’m not making excuses for the sanitation department. I’m simply saying most people do not start their day intending to be malicious by deliberately leaving behind the sacks they’re paid to haul away. Like I said, this is New York. Instead of putting the rubbish collectors down, try picking them up. Or at least give them the benefit of the doubt. I think the Christian words are ‘goodness and mercy’ if I’m not mistaken.”

Actually the harmonious attitude my neighbor was referring to comes to us from an ancient chant, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23:6)

We are living with a good deal of tension these days. Our world, our countries, our people have had their lives set on edge by an “invisible garbage” that’s difficult to “take out” on any day of the week. What better time than right now to turn frustration into peace by taking advantage of opportunities to serve others a delicious portion of “the benefit of the doubt” along with a generous helping of goodness and mercy?

For Holy Homework: During these days leading up to Nov. 1 and the Feast of All Saints, let’s deliberately move each garbage pail in our house to a different location but still within whatever room they’re at. If there’s a trash can under the bathroom sink, let’s move it next to the shower. If there’s a garbage bin in the left corner of the garage, let’s move it to the right corner. We don’t have to remove any of them. We simply have to relocate them to a new spot in the room. Soon we may discover that having to toss trash differently will gently remind us to treat people differently as well. Or at least give them the benefit of the doubt. If we do this from the beginning of the month, then by the time we are taking out the garbage after All Hallows Eve, also known as Halloween, we can be sure goodness and mercy will be following us. Why? Because our attitude and behavior toward others all month has been picking up their spirits, not putting them down.

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