Well, day four of the new year and already something profound and curious has happened.
I began the day awakened by the anguished meowing of my ragdoll. It was 7:00 am. I had joked the night before with my husband that we probably didn’t need an alarm clock at this point – Octavia got hungry at approximately the same time every morning. I feigned sleep as my husband got up to feed her, but instead I found myself having a useless debate on whether or not I should take the four cases of empty beer bottles from last night’s company event to the recycling center.
“Do it,” my adult, responsible side said. “Otherwise it will sit in the basement forever and you know what happened when you suddenly had to go to the hospital.” Of course, no recycling was done while I was away and returnables had piled up. A couple of co-workers had taken it upon themselves to take care of the returnables. They had rented a car (neither of them owned one) and they had told me the amount was about $30, which had paid for the rental. Which is why to this day I have more sense of urgency to my work tasks – get things done today, because who know what might happen tomorrow?
“It’ll be cold,” the whiny part of my psyche said. “Who cares if it sits in the basement? Wait until spring or at least until it’s 40 degrees.”
“Ok,”continued my still developing nicely rationale self. “See what it’s like outside, then decide.”
This went on in my head until I was close to my building, when my rationale self teamed up with my responsible side and distracted the whiny part of my psyche with an egg McMuffin and together we decided get it done. I pulled up in front of my building, brought all the bottles down and loaded them into my trunk, then off I went to the dreaded, dirty recycling center.
I hadn’t been there in ages. My assistant was dealing with the recycling for the moment – perhaps after I had taken her there once and she had experienced the fascist approach to recycling this new crew had established (the previous group being kinder, more marijuana fueled) she was keen to never have to go there again and insisted on taking small amounts of recycling home where plastics didn’t have to be meticulously separated . It did look like something out of a Mad Max movie. It never looked like the last time I had seen it. The worn metal receptacles were in a state of constant change, and the only constant was the uneven concrete that was always wet or puddly. Today I admired a new little office area, constructed out of what appeared to be part of a railway car. I half expected a little Wall-E garbage robot to putter around the corner, crushing some #5-#7 plastics into a cube.
I had put all the bottles precariously in one of their convenient wobbly shopping carts and was carefully negotiation a path to the glass area, hoping not to pull too hard over a jutting piece of cement and spill my fragile cargo. I looked to where it had been last time and discovered it had been moved to the furthest part of the warehouse sized space.
I had barely noticed her as she stood there with her own shopping cart full of empty bottles. Just some old woman, probably a little crazy, hanging out at the recycling center. She had gold rimmed wire glasses, and wore Salvation Army clothes, a gentle smile adorning her face.
“Do you have any returnables?” she asked me as I labored through the first case of bottles. I looked up, noticing grey curls peaking out from the sides of her hood.
“No, these aren’t returnable, sorry,” and went on to explain briefly how the market I used to go to didn’t accept this particular brand of Detroit beer.
“Oh, ok. Thank you anyway.” She went back to standing and smiling, and I went back to dropping bottles carefully into the colored glass bin.
“Those are returnable!” she said suddenly. I looked at the pale ale bottle in my hand. “Yeah? Here, you can have it.” I waited a breath, then, “In fact, feel free to go through the rest of these cases, if you like. I’ll just get rid of these while you’re doing that.” I took the cardboard beer cases to the big cardboard compactor bin and threw them in. “No climbing!” a sign said. There were definitely more signs in this fascist regime of a recycling station.
I returned and found she had gone through a lot of the cases in my brief time away.
“I take the money I get and give it to the homeless or donate it to soup kitchens,” she explained, smiling the smile of someone who had found a way to still serve mankind in her old age. “And I pray for them and anyone that helps me. So I’ll pray for you, too.” This part moved me to a different emotional response, one of unexpected gratitude. A total stranger, praying for me? “Thank you so much for your help today.”
“Oh, thanks. Everyone needs a little prayer for them, I think.” I felt a profound connection between us in that moment and I did something I only do under very special circumstances . “What’s your name?” I asked her.
“Alberta, what’s yours?” I told her and we shook hands.
“Do you come here every week?”I continued. She said yes, Mondays and Wednesdays when it’s open. I told her I work in an office (“Oh, how nice!”she exclaimed) that always has returnables and I normally just leave them in the nearby parks for homeless people. I never actually saw someone take one, but they were gone when I walked by later on the way to my parking structure. ” I can bring them here to you whenever I come.”
The look of joy on her face was priceless. “Whatever you like, but that would be wonderful! Or you can just leave it with them, they know who I am.”
We said our farewells and I returned to work. As I was driving I pondered this random experience and all the little decisions that brought me to that one point of contact. My heart felt warm and fuzzy, knowing my light had touched another’s over something as simple as returnables. Suddenly, the recycling place wasn’t so bad after all, and not such an annoyance.