A windy day. I saw my husband off as he headed to work. Minutes later, the sound of aluminum cat food cans tumbling into the streets alerted me that the garbage and recycling he had pulled to the curbside for collection were being swept by the strong wind into the streets. I pulled my coat over my pajamas, stuck my feet into my rubber boots, and ran outside to upright our trash bins.
My coat has only one button, but it was not my pajama-clad, middle-aged body that made me feel exposed as cars drove past and kicked up more wind around my swirling garbage. My old bills, tea bag wrappers, detergent bottles, and soy milk cartons swirled around me. Anyone looking at the road could see my life scattered across the pavement and blowing down the street. The bins, tops shiny with ice, kept toppling over. I turned them to keep their remaining contents from blowing away, shuffled back up my icy driveway and into the house to fetch a plastic garbage bag, shuffled back down the driveway, filled the bag, dragged the bins back behind the house (giving up on collection for today), and then, with a second bag, walked along two streets to collect my garbage where it was strewn.
The day has not been friendly so far. Before I even rose from bed, I had been feeling waves of sadness, not just because it is my daughter's 20th birthday and I am feeling blue about my little girl growing up, but because I'm sending her into a world that frightens me with its soul-sickness and waste. I thought about how much I'd like to keep her home with me where I can protect her from whatever is "out there," as if I am not infected too. It creeps in when you aren't looking. Apathy and self-indulgence, even in the form of "green" consumerism, is a dysfunctional response to overwhelming collective pain.
What a cozy little lie I've been telling myself. I'm a mindful shopper. I buy organic stuff and I recycle. I reuse containers and compost. I pride myself on being green. But pride is a sin, and no one is going to pat me on the back for my ecological virtue just because the waste I send to be dumped in landfills or incinerated in toxic waste disposal facilities is labeled "organic" and "fair trade".
There's something bracing about walking in your pajamas in the icy wind before God and all your neighbors to pick up your trash. I stood in the middle of the street, picked up a piece of soggy paper and turned it over. It literally had my name on it. "Enough," I muttered to myself as I stuffed handfuls of junk into my little white plastic grocery bag, itself an advertisement of my ecological shame. It is time for me to crawl out of aimless self-pity and self-righteousness and get to work. I can do more. Two bins of my trash rolling past my neighbors' houses was just the medicine I needed.