Sunday, May 24, 2015

BUS STORY # 446 (It’s The Little Things)

Downloaded from The Daily Mail

I’m downtown at the ATC, sitting on a bench reading and waiting for the 8 to pull into its bay.

I see an old guy picking up trash in the long waiting area between the docks. Blue and orange stocking cap, black jacket, dark blue jeans, a back pack... It’s the backpack that catches my attention.

Then I see he’s putting the trash into a plastic grocery sack. The trash is mostly cigarette butts, with the occasional candy wrapper. He isn’t wearing a yellow safety vest. I can’t see from my angle if he has an ID badge or not, but I’ve already decided he’s not a city employee.

When he works his way over by my bench, I ask him if he’s with the city or just being a good citizen.

He tells me his bus only comes every 45 minutes, so he kills time by picking up the trash. He says he was inspired by a guy he always saw picking up the trash when he arrived at work. He’d get to work at six, and there’d be this guy picking up the trash. One day he asked the guy why he picked up the trash.

“He told me he was retired, and he didn’t have anything else to do. Now I’m retired, and I don’t have anything else to do.”

He tells me he also picks up the trash on his morning walk, from Central to Bridge. The ATC is only when he’s waiting for the bus. But he’s hoping the folks who are littering will see him picking up their trash, and maybe it’ll plant a seed.

You know, he tells me, there’s a sign saying nobody’s supposed to be smoking out here. I laugh. I’m remembering the old toilet paper commercials on TV: Mr. Whipple puts up a sign that reads “Don’t squeeze the Charmin.” These days, the best way to get people to do something is to put up a sign telling them not to do it.

Still, there is something to be said for this old retired guy’s fighting the good fight against the tide. I’m an old retired guy, too, and our sensibilities are going the way of the dinosaur. I don’t think picking up the trash is going to plant any seeds or make anyone stop littering. But it’s not hurting anyone, and he’s found a way to make his small place in the world a nicer place, even if only for a few minutes.

I remember when my generation was going to do more than pick up the trash. We were going to stop war and end racism. We were young, and we had no idea that the way to make God laugh is to tell him your plans. We’ve many of us struggled since to bring integrity and grace and peace to just our own lives.

Watching the old guy picking up the trash reminds me of Theresa of Liseaux, a young woman whose story was told to me during my impressionable childhood as an example of how to become a saint without all the fireworks. We were told she’d gained sainthood despite living a short life in an out-of-the-way cloistered convent by quietly doing little things. Things like picking up the pins dropped and left by her fellow sisters. Her spiritual practice was called “the little way.”

There’s no way of knowing if the old guy picking up the trash has ever heard of Theresa of Liseaux. I figure the odds are slim. Nevertheless, he seems to have discovered her secret for himself: it’s the little things.


Remembering the old Charmin commercial prompted me to go looking for it with Google. Sure enough, here’s the “Honey, there’s a sign” commercial: Vintage Old 1960's P&G Mr Whipple Don't Squeeze The Charmin Bath Tissue Commercial 3.

And that prompted another memory, of Charlie Walker’s country western hit, “Please Don’t Squeeze My Charmin,” inspired, of course, by the commercials. Enjoy.


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