Picking up trash has become part of my 2-mile daily walk along the Cypress Creek Canal. Every morning, as I get ready to leave the house, I think, “oh there won’t be much to pick up today, I got it all yesterday.” And every morning, as I walk the exact same route as the day before, I come home with another bag full of trash.
It’s become a kind of spiritual practice for me: delighting in the magnificent herons and turtles and lizards that inhabit the canal, and picking up trash to keep those creatures safe. I pause for a moment as I put each bottle or cigarette butt or can into my bag, and breathe in gratitude for the ability to pick it up and prevent harm to one of those beautiful creatures. And then I imagine I’m leaving an invisible flower of love in its place.
It’s a satisfying feeling, to know I’ve prevented stuff from polluting the water and harming the wildlife, and shared a little positive energy in the process.
Until I look down into the canal and see all the stuff that I didn’t get to before it was blown or washed into the water. Styrofoam to-go boxes. Plastic bags, paper cups. Pieces of plastic pipe. Wads of paper. Remnants of plastic toys. All of it beyond my reach; all of it making its way to the intracoastal waterway, and from there into the ocean.
It’s so easy to get overwhelmed by the enormity of what we can’t do anything about, isn’t it. The trash floating out to sea. The millions of people without food or clean drinking water. Human trafficking, bigotry, wars, torture, disease…politics…so easy to just sit down and say, “There’s nothing I can do” and let the troubles roll—or float--on by.
But remember the story of the little boy and the starfish? Maybe we can’t fix the whole world. But what if we each did just one thing every day to help? Think about it: each piece of trash you pick up keeps the planet a little bit cleaner. Each smile you share with a stranger makes that life a little more pleasant. Each dollar you send to a worthy cause puts that cause a little closer to its goal. Each letter you write to your Congressperson adds one more voice.
I do believe that every time we take even the smallest positive action, the world is changed for the better. Each act of care creates ripples we will never see. And enough ripples will make a wave.
So I’ll keep picking up trash on my little piece of the planet, even if far more than I can collect floats past me on the canal. Because it matters. To these turtles and fish and birds, and to creatures in the ocean that I will never see, it matters.
Renowned philosopher and psychologist William James said it best: “Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.”
May my every gesture be a gentle caress of Mother Earth. May my every thought be spiritual food for her energy. May every word I speak send healing vibrations to places where she suffers. May I live each day in gratitude for the gifts of her beauty; And may I always remember That even the smallest effort makes a difference. AMEN.