My amazing husband has created his own volunteer job in retirement. Every morning, he visits the large recycle dumpsters near our local fire station and retrieves aluminum cans to donate to the firefighters for their fund to aid needy children. Over time, he’s enlarged his job to include retrieving items that are not supposed to have been placed in the dumpsters and depositing them elsewhere. This includes collecting: the forbidden plastic bags and taking them to Walmart for recycling; electronics which he transfers to the electronics recycling location; corks which he takes to our local liquor store which in turn donates them to re-sole shoes; toys, books, furniture, and anything else he comes across in decent shape which he cleans up and donates to Good Will; and trash which goes in our own trash cans at home.
I don’t know too many folks who would willingly take on this solitary volunteer pursuit in all kinds of weather seven days a week, but my husband has always danced to his own music. And he’s always been a dedicated recycler. Years ago, he loaded our van up with recyclables from a vacation in Florida and drove them back to Kentucky because he discovered the hotel where we were staying didn’t recycle.
Of course, he has run into a variety of interesting characters and some mighty appreciative firefighters. Recently, however, he’s come home bothered by the distinct unfriendliness of one of the waste management workers, a young black man. “I don’t know what I’ve done,” he told me. “But every time I try to engage him in friendly conversation, he turns away and won’t even respond to me. If he looks at me at all, it’s with a dirty look.”
Today, however, he came home with a different story. “You’re not going to believe this,” he said. “You know that guy who won’t even speak to me? This morning, he was a regular ‘Chatty Kathy.’ Suddenly, he seemed to have decided I was an okay guy.”
I smiled at him. “Look at your shirt,” I said. He was wearing his “Black Lives Matter” T-shirt. “My guess is he figured out that you were on his side.”
Of course, I don’t really know whether that was the reason. But my hunch is my husband’s very public statement of allegiance to a movement challenging systemic racism didn’t hurt.
Sometimes folks need a signal that although you can’t begin to know how it feels to have been savagely and relentlessly oppressed for 400 years, you’re listening. You want to be part of the changes so long overdue.
It really is up to all of us.