Sunday, April 09, 2017

Earth Day, revisited

It had been a long day.

You know, the kind of day where you go from one place to another, from one thing to another, with barely a pause.

The type of day you can't quite wrap your mind around without checking and double checking a list. Or a calendar. Or a schedule. Or whatever marker stain remains on your lower forearm from the night before ... to remind you of that one extra thing you are no doubt forgetting.

We've all had this kind of day; the ones that make you feel old and out of shape because, of course, you will not be able to keep up. You will gloss over something. And that thing you lost track of would have been glaringly unforgettable to you a scant decade ago.

And even when you get to the end of a day like this, there's always more. There's dinner to make, dishes to clear, pots and pans to scour and scrub. There's homework to hassle, baths to draw and bedtimes some little someone will draw out for as long as humanly possible.

That's the kind of day I had had as I stood over the trash can, my foot pressed down on the pedal, its clamshell mouth opened wide and waiting for the jar I dangled above to fall inside.

This is wrong.

So wrong.

Growing up in the '70s nothing had affected me more than the iconic image of Iron Eyes Cody, and his second-generation map of Italy face, shedding a single tear over the modern, litter-infested environment he tried to traverse in his buckskin and feathers.
It was a powerful message.

And while the ad seemed wildly popular as it spoke a simple truth – that we humans were mucking up the planet – it has been criticized like all popular, well-intentioned things are, for being overly trite and under effective.

And old Iron Eyes wasn't even a smidgeon Native American.

So there!

I am supposed to shrug my shoulders and admit that facts are as malleable as opinion. But oh, how I hate it when my closely-held beliefs are torn asunder.

In my mind, and despite the facts, that one ad changed the world. I remember those trash-strewn highways and smog-belching smokestacks. I remember driving in the back of my parents' Buick, watching the car ahead of us unwind its crank-driven window and release a confetti of fast food wrappers into the air all around us.

Inevitably a cup with drops of orange soda would glance off our car and stain the windshield.

My father would swear under his breath. My mother would tell me to keep my window rolled up and my hands in the car at all times as if I were the monkey who would see and then do.

Since then, it seemed, the world had cleaned up its act.

Trash no longer begot trash. In fact, recycling became a new filing system of our family's (and probably your family's) extensive scrap library. Eventually, something called single-stream recycling came into our lives, and the hardships of source separating glass from paper and paper from plastic went out. The only effort now seems to be remembering to drag the recycling bin to the curb on the designated day.

Except …

As I stand here in the here and now, holding my jar and its thin film of peanut butter remains, over the trash … It was as if I'd turned back time, cranked down a window in the old sedan and was waiting for the moment when it would be right for tossing.

The moment passed.

I felt Mr. Cody's tear.

And I brought myself to the sink.  

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