My husband has said through the years that a distinction of societal breakdown in countries was in the garbage, literally garbage. After the 2016 flood, I thought all the piles of debris scattered around were so disturbing, because it showed the true devastation everyone was going through. So many people had lost their homes and businesses. Larry replied somberly that those large heaps were well-organized, neatly stacked piles that would soon be hauled away and, even though extremely difficult, people would rebuild. After a few moments of silence between us, he added, “It’s when the garbage stays…”
I have always joked around about what a recycler he is. It’s endearing when he goes behind me and digs stuff out of the wastebasket, cleans it off and puts it in the recycle bin. Not that I don’t try, only sometimes I forget or simply get lazy.
Not long after the pandemic started, Larry said something that I vaguely remember about the importance of waste collection.
Then, the moment @louisianagov John Bel Edwards issued the stay-at-home order for non-essential employees, Larry said something about the garbage again. I kind of laughed it off a bit, until finally it got the best of me and I asked what he was talking about and he said, “One of the most essential jobs to our country is the garbage collectors; and they’ll be some of the most underappreciated and at risk.”
I saw the familiar shadow that comes to him sometimes and it hit me how underexposed I am to true poverty. Counseling people in crisis, feeding homeless, working at shelters, or with displaced families is difficult, but I’ve never seen true societal breakdowns. And there are many, many places in the world like that.
I have seen devastation and poverty on TV, but it’s not the same as seeing it in person. I thought about a trip we took to Big Sur a couple of years ago. Larry had told me how beautiful it was and I had looked up many pictures in expectation of our trip and he was right, Big Sur was gorgeous! Only it wasn’t until I was standing on the edge of the cliff watching the sunrise that I truly saw it. The awe of it was unbelievable. I stood there and cried. That was really the only difference I could relate between seeing something in person versus on TV or in pictures; TV and pictures don’t even compare. Good or bad, nothing is as potent as seeing it in person, up close. Then I thought of the natural detachment that is there when we see something on TV or in pictures, instead of in person.
The same could be said about all of our relationships right now. Seeing people on social media, even video calls, isn’t the same as seeing them in person. There is a type of detachment that can be dangerous for many people, especially those who live alone. Imagine the ones who have no phones, internet, or TV, let alone food or medical care. It is so easy to forget just how much I don’t know about the world. How sheltered I am. My husband has seen a lot in his life. I am sure that’s where the shadow in his eyes comes from sometimes. I’ve often thought maybe that was why one of his ministries is in feeding people.
In any case, last night was garbage night. Before my husband took out the bin, he quickly grabbed some paint wrote “Thank you”. Of course, I cried.
Let’s not forget to pray for all the people who collect, manage, and work around all of our waste. If it’s true that the COVID-19 lives on glass for up to seven days, then they are on the front lines, all to keep our society from breaking down. Let’s also keep in prayer for all the people of the world who live in poverty and homelessness.
I’ll be a better recycler from now on, and I have no doubt I’ll be more thankful.
Larry would not call this his “best work,” but I thinking it just might be…