Trash Talk

3 a.m. The hour when body clocks switch from nighttime to daytime. The hour when our thoughts, if we’re aware of them, are weighty ones.

I rose and glanced out the window. Dismay! My trash bin looked like a dark cone with a triple scoop of darker ice cream perched not in, but on it. A similar thing had happened last week and caused the lid to come off when the trash guys came. They gave me a new one for free, but the next time it comes out of my pocket.

[Background: Our housing authority has strict rules about trash, codified in our leases, that we do not use another’s bin. (Has there bin too much trouble over it in the past?) The reality is that tenants do, forced to clandestine forays to the various bins, hoping that the curtain twitchers (every neighborhood has them, those who wait and watch for inevitable lease infractions) have closed their eyes for a few moments. I rarely have much trash, so mine has been a favorite bin. I embraced Reality and gave permission for my bin to be used, right there in front of god and everyone, in broad daylight. I did ask them (a) please bag the trash (early on, it had not) and (b) make SURE the lid can be closed. Them’s the rules, and I see good reason for them. Everyone heard the “yes” but did not hear my caveats. That’s Reality, too.]

On the heels of the dismay, I was glad I’d caught that bin with its lid down, and early enough to prevent its embarrassment when the collectors came in a few hours. Out I went in my jammies to see could I get that bag inside the bin.

Ah, but it was jammed tightly into the top three inches of bin. I laughed (silently). I couldn’t help but think of me trying to get myself into jeans several sizes too small. So tight, the zipper was unusable and I would just tuck the fabric back into a V. No danger of them falling off, for sure. Talk about muffin top!

I huffed and I puffed and managed to at least get the bag out of the bin. Never good at geometry, even I could tell that bag was never, ever going to fit. What had the neighbor been thinking? Tomorrow…no, actually, later today…I would gently but firmly let them know it was unacceptable to abuse my bin in that way. Wait…I have no voice, and no one’s going to want to read six chalkboards’ worth of my thoughts on the matter. Hmmm…

And then mind’s eye saw the neighbor who’s moving in a few days, going back to the never-ending tidying after her little children and baby are in bed. Only one trash bag left, she sees, and still so much to go in it. Wiping tears away, she fights exhaustion and continues to fill the bag. Jen will let me use her bin, she remembers. When she’s put all she can into the bag, it’s too heavy to lift. Hon, she says to her husband, will you bring this down to Jen’s place. And this gentle giant, who knows instantly that the bag will not fit but cannot bear to see his beloved in tears, says Yes. He brings the bag over, he stuffs it in as best he can, says a little prayer that the top-heavy bin will not fall over before the trash men come. For he and his wife–and indeed, all my neighbors–are kind-hearted, generous people who wish me no ill will.

As I drag the bag to a place where if the neighbors look out their windows, they will not see I have taken it, I remember all the times I moved and left boxes (of what I thought were treasures) behind. I remember leaving Ireland in 2004, dear friends helping me throw things into boxes for shipment and other things–bags and bags of them–into heavy-duty trash bags like the one I was holding now, leaving them (with embarrassment, with chagrin) for the landlord to take away and it was not even his job. And it was not free, yet he returned my full deposit. In cash, so I’d have it for my trip. I so underestimated the size of my stuff and what it would take to contain it, I missed my own going away party in Dublin.

And I thought of all the times my family and children and friends kept boxes for me. Out of love for me did they do this, not for what was in those boxes. I would sincerely and honestly believe I’d be back soon for what I thought were treasures. Days turned into weeks turned into years before I realized, here at 3 a.m. on a cool starry night in south-central Oregon, how profoundly kindly I’ve been treated over the years. And my heart ached and I wept and I wanted to ask forgiveness of my son, my daughters, my sisters, my brother, my friends, for my taking advantage, however unwittingly, of their kind natures.

And I thought, too, how we have this small bin of time here and we try to stuff too many things in it, thereby not appreciating any of it individually. How we buy all these trinkets and gadgets in the hope they will fill our holes and make us happy, but they end up just trash in the end. We treat trash like people and forget that real treasures (like people) cannot be bought, sold, or even thrown away.

All this I thought in the wee hours Friday morning. Later, I sat where no one could see what I was doing and joyfully, mindfully rebagged the trash. (It fit in my bin after all. Next week it will be taken away.)

What goes around, comes around, truly. It’s my turn for the trash.

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