That Moment the Groundskeeper Tells You to “Throw the Garbage Back Into the River”
There has been a lot of disappointment and discontent with the growing concerns we as individuals, communities, and as a nation face.
We continue to see the normalization of things that shouldn’t be normal: such as the tolerance and egregious acceptance of indignation from ‘leaders’ that not only role-model wretched violent human behavior, but openly encourage it in their public positions. And we have other congressional ’leaders’ that choose to not protect the sanctity of compassion and community by passively remaining silent and opting to not openly condemn these immoral actions.
This is leading to a poverty of spirit and soul. We as a nation experienced it once again this weekend as we watched the atrocities of Charlottesville play out on the world stage. I watched in horror as a vehicle slammed into a group of peaceful protestors, injuring many and killing one of them, and then watched the driver try to flee from the responsibility of their actions and their hate. And I felt shame as at the state level we are debating a bill that is attempting to make running over a human life with a vehicle legal during times of peaceful assemblence?
My friends and I today went to do our weekly civic service and try to clean up our community. It’s something we try to do each weekend…and despite the, at times, crushing hustle and bustle of what we face, we still have found our weekend river trash clean-ups to be something that we have clung to, as it serves to bring some amount of peace and a feeling of community servitude into our lives.
Today we paddled along the banks of the Tennessee River in Sale Creek where we discovered an endless scourge of trash and debris collecting in and along the banks the river.
The flotillas of trash create stagnation of water which promotes mosquito breeding (which are becoming an increasing threat as they are vectors of disease) and dangerous growth of bacteria and algae. The trash and the chemical contained in it is also poisoning our ecosystem including the fish we eat and….the water we later drink and bathe in that comes from the Tennessee River.
We went to work at the task at hand, trying to make a dent in the debris. We pulled out plastic recyclables, a fuel cylinder, anti-freeze, styrofoam cups, enormous pieces of PVC piping, clothing, and glass bottles. We also saw refrigerators, numerous submerged tires with rims attached, and what seemed to be an endless sea of recyclables.
For the three of us present this is the dent we made. We sorted the trash from the recyclables and special chemical disposables and also cleaned the boat ramp area of the private fee-for-use recreational area. We also cleaned up the trash and debris near the boat launch and the surrounding riverbanks.
We were then dumbfounded and saddened by what occurred next. As we attempted to use the recreational site’s dumpster to throw away the pre-sorted trash items, the manager of the facility scolded us and told us to not use the dumpster. When we explained that we had just spent the morning cleaning up the river in his boat dock launch area and his employer’s boat ramp he managed, his response to us was “I didn’t ask you to clean up the ramp. Throw that garbage back into the river.”
I then proceeded to have a long conversation with him about the importance of keeping the river healthy and this is where we as a community get our water from to drink and use to bathe. His reply was “I get bottled water, I don’t drink that s*&t.”
My heart sank. But I didn’t give up. I also spoke to him about how his job is vitally dependent upon keeping the river clean. People will not come to a recreation area if it is filled with trash and appears unsightly. I wanted him to thrive and I also emphasized…I wanted his heart to change and hopefully feel a sense of connection to his community.
In the end, we shook hands and he said to us “there’s not a lot of people like you out there.” I’m not exactly sure what he meant by this, but I at least felt like I and my friends may have possibly made a new friend and maybe positively impacted his journey in some small way. At least I hope.
We pulled a lot of trash out of the river today…and yes, there’s still a lot of hearts and minds out there to win…but we’re doing it…one plastic bottle and smile at a time.