Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Trashing of America

I try to take a 30 – 60 minute walk every morning on days I do not have my fitness class.  I find my brain working overtime on a variety of ideas that come to me along the way.  Sometimes they are such that I hope I will still have them fresh in my mind by the time I get home so I can write them down.  Most times, though, they are gone by then.

Today was one of the days my thoughts stayed with me.  I had gone over and over them until they seemed set in form.  What struck me today, and it often has, is the amount of litter—trash—that I see along the streets and walkways.

Years ago, when I was director of youth education for my national church headquarters, one of my responsibilities was the organization of an annual teenage youth conference for about 350 young folks from all over the country.  In one of those conferences I met a young man who was from another country participating in an exchange program.  One day as we were talking he mentioned to me his disappointment in finding so much litter in “America the Beautiful.”  He said that in his country he would be castigated for simply spitting on the sidewalk.  Regardless of what other conditions might be discussed about issues in his country, the point stuck with me through the years.  It seems far too easy for Americans, especially young people, though not they alone, to simply drop trash where they stand.

It occurred to me as I walked along past the middle school, the small park and the aquatic center on my way to the path through the woods along Rickreal Creek, that even if we had trash barrels every 50 feet, there would be those who still would drop their candy wrappers, pop cans and bottles—beer cans in some cases—right on the spot.  This morning I even saw a plastic bag of dog poop that an owner has obviously picked up and bagged.  I wonder who is supposed to take care of it.  Maybe mom is coming by later, like she does picking up after others in the home regularly.  I doubt it.

I suppose one could find all kinds of reasons we do not seem to care as much for the way we treat our country.  The National Parks Service has been running advertisements during this year of celebrating the history of our national parks, showing the tons of garbage left in the parks by visitors each year.  Granted this is not necessarily litter, but it is garbage.  The tag line in the ad is “We are what we leave behind.”  Cannot be said much clearer than that.

Among the many things I was taught as a child was to NOT leave litter behind me.  I wrapped used gum in the original wrapper or other paper and disposed of it appropriately, carrying it home in my pocket, if necessary.  Pop bottles were collected and redeemed at the grocery store.  (This was before the many litter laws encouraging recycling.)  Besides the cleanup that was accomplished, I always had pocket money, an incentive for my actions.  I suppose I could take a bag with me to hold litter that I find along my walks.  I do pick up things that I find close to garbage cans that someone couldn’t take the two steps to toss in the can.

So, the long and the short of the story is that we could be doing a much better job of keeping our streets and byways free of litter and trash.  Lady Bird Johnson, wife of former President, Lyndon Johnson, took on the mission of beautifying our roadways by planting flowers.  We all get to enjoy that beauty. 

What’s that I hear?  Oh, its just mom’s footsteps heading out to pick up after the rest of us who dropped our trash on the spot.  Thanks, mom!

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