In the city of Cambridge garbage day is on Friday. On this day large plastic containers line the streets; the plain grey one and the blue one – distinguished by its familiar triangle and bold white letters that say “Recycling“. Sidewalks crowded with these bins, make a normally “walkable” town uncomfortable and difficult.
Depending on the time of year the items thrown into the garbage, destined to fill landfills forever, can make your eyes pop.
A gentleman who is a refugee, recently resettled to the United States, commented to me that he was amazed at garbage day.“Garbage day” he said “is the hardest day for me” He went on to speak of plastic containers and couches, bookshelves and desks all on the street to be picked up by enormous trucks that would crush them into small pieces and then pack those pieces into other refuse previously picked up – the real garbage.
The man was from Somalia. Since the early nineties Somalia has seen an increase in poverty, a decrease in availability of health care resources, conflict within and chaos in the government – in short, overall instability. And it doesn’t seem to be getting better or easier. The shock of going from poverty to plenty hits him the hardest on garbage day.
He’s right – it’s a huge shock to look at what we throw out. I know people who have furnished their entire house through “shopping” on garbage day. We have several pieces of furniture that are from someone’s garbage, retooled to look beautiful in our living and other rooms.
We’re told that one man’s garbage is another man’s treasure, but it seems that there is a glaring lack of understanding of what is and what isn’t garbage. Chairs, tables, couches – garbage or just discards? Are they instantly recyclable, needing only a fresh coat of paint or stain, a lace cloth and flowers, or a couch cover? In other words – is it really garbage? Or can we rethink this garbage thing? Rethink it in terms of those with plenty being aware of those without plenty.
International students are always in need of furniture and other items. Often here for only a short time, they live simply and sparsely. Refugees and new immigrants often have the need for furniture, dishes, and containers – things that people may have grown tired of and so discarded on garbage day unaware of the need around the corner. Our neighbors may be in need of something that we are throwing out and if we knew them we could meet the need.
The words of this refugee from Somalia have stayed with me. I am looking at my “garbage” with a more critical eye, ultimately wanting garbage day to be about real garbage. And along with that being more aware of the needs of people around me so that my discards can potentially become their treasure.
Blogger’s Note: Last week after writing my guest post at Tamara Out Loud, I received a comment from a reader in South Africa. She found my blog during the 4am feeding of her baby. As I read it I was amazed at the grace of connection. It turned out we knew each other – both having worked at the state, her in the refugee health program, and me in women’s health. I didn’t know that we shared the same faith – turns out we do and I can’t stop thinking about this. I followed her over to her blog and am amazed and challenged by what I see on a commitment to simple living. I bring this up during this post because Jo blogs at The Concrete Gardener and she began her blog for these reasons:
- Enjoy what we have.
- Not take more than we need.
- Use what we have really well.
I urge you to take a look at her blog and get a glimpse of her commitment to the three things listed above.