Gratitude Journal #2 - Trash Scavenger

posted on: November 14, 2010

There's a dumpster behind our apartment and it's a popular spot for scavengers looking for bottle deposits and other cash attracting items. It has side access making it easier to discard items without lifting the top, which also makes it easy for people to dig through the trash at standing height rather than climbing in over top. Most scavengers I've encountered just hunt furiously through the discard until they find enough bottles and can move on to the next opportunity. I don't acknowledge them, and they don't acknowledge me. I always walk by with a negative feeling weighing over me.

I'm coming home from work one day and as I get out of my car, I see a woman in the parking lot. She's wearing plastic gloves like our maintenance workers do. She greets me with a huge smile and points out what a lovely day it is. I don't recognize her as one of the regular maintenance people, and it's a Sunday, when I normally don't see the maintenance people anyway. I figure, maybe she's a neighbor going for a walk- but with gloves? As I walk past her and to the door, I look back and realize she's scavenging through the dumpster. Yet, her demeanor is a complete 180° from every other scavenger I've encountered. She's friendly, welcoming, happy to be there, enjoying the day, and being leisurely enough in her activities that she has gone out of her way to say hello to me and make small talk. As I"m looking back, she looks up from the dumpster and says, "Have a great day!" I smile, nod, and process what just happened as I walk in the door.

I have no negative feelings. Quite the opposite- I feel inspired. The trash lady made me want to be a better person.

How did she do it?! How did she take something which normally gives me negative feelings and turn it into something completely positive and inspiring? It was so simple, so disarming. She wasn't ashamed of what she was doing; she presented herself with an ease that made it feel like it's perfectly normal and completely acceptable for people to scavenge through other people's trash. She gave me a huge genuine smile, and she engaged me in recognizing the beauty of the moment and the day. It's so simple and so elegant. How many times have I been in a hurry that I just didn't acknowledge someone, or my first words to them were something other than a kind greeting? How many people have I walked by and not even tried to give a smile to? How many times have I let my own situation at the moment make me less of a decent person to others? If a trash lady can make the time for human decency, what the hell is my excuse?!

So, to the woman who occasionally visits the dumpster in my parking lot: I'm grateful for your smile. I'm grateful for your appreciation of a beautiful day. I'm grateful that you take the time to greet people and share your warmth and good spirit with them. I'm grateful that you were digging through the trash behind my apartment, so that I could experience how deep and strong your inner beauty is. You set an example for how we should always treat one another, and you make me want to be a better person. Thank you.

I would love to hear about someone who has unexpectedly made your day better. Feel free to send it to me in email, post to your own blog, or in the comments below. I love being inspired. ;-)

If you post a gratitude journal of your own, please leave a link to it in the comments so that I can visit and be inspired by you!

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