by Father Mark Goldasich
This simple concept was drilled into me as a child. It was a small rule of life that spoke of respect — not only for nature, but also for all the other people with whom we share space.
It’s something that’s still important to my mom. On Sunday afternoons, as we head to lunch, she never fails to comment on how clean — that is, litter-free — the road is from Tonganoxie to Kansas City, Kansas. Occasionally, there will be a stray piece of trash but, for the most part, it is remarkably clean.
No doubt I’m “litter sensitive” not only because of Mom, but also from a character in a comic mystery novel by Carl Hiaasen that I just finished. One person in the story is a serial litterbug; another is horrified by this man’s insensitive treatment of Mother Nature. In fact, the guy gets so upset with the litterbug that he sends him a not-so-subtle message by dumping the load from a full garbage truck into the offender’s unattended, open convertible. (The litterbug will still not get the message and so other “reminders” will follow throughout the novel.) Now, my folks were never that extreme, but they did instill in me a deep respect for creation, much like the man in the following story:
A scoutmaster used to take his troop on hikes along wilderness nature trails. After each hike, he would challenge the Scouts to describe what they had observed on their excursion. The boys invariably had not seen a fraction of what the scoutmaster had seen.
He would wave his arms in great circles and shout, “Creation is all around you, but you are blocking it out. Stop wearing your raincoat in the shower. You were born to look, but you have to learn to see!” (Found in Father Brian Cavanaugh’s “More Sower’s Seeds: Second Planting.”)
Did you know that the first Saturday after Labor Day is called the Carl Garner Federal Lands Cleanup Day? In the 1980s, Garner organized a large citizen cleanup of the area around Greers Ferry Lake in northern Arkansas. The national cleanup day evolved as a result of his work. The day is set aside to get people to “cooperate in preserving their environment, particularly federal lands, recreation areas and waterways.” Some of its long-term goals are increasing “people’s sense of ownership and community pride in these areas” and reducing litter.
Just don’t litter. This seems easy, right? But it’s a lesson that maybe we need to relearn. For instance, have you ever followed a pickup down the highway and watched as trash in its bed flew out onto the roadway? Or have you ever walked through a parking lot after a sporting event and seen all the debris from tailgaters? Sure, “someone” will eventually clean things up, but is it that much of a burden to clean up after ourselves?
And, while we’re on the topic of litter, there’s another type that seems to be proliferating. These are the uncharitable, insensitive and generally uninformed comments that so often appear on social media. In fact, things have gotten so bad that I’m thinking of starting a petition to rename it antisocial media. Recently, The Week magazine reported that one-in-four Democrats and one-in-three Republicans see the other party “as a threat to the nation’s well-being.” Wow. When we fail to see those who are different from us as human beings first — and label them according to a political philosophy or race or religion or some other characteristic — it’s no wonder that social media is littered with comments that fail to build bridges or move people to seek shared solutions.
Maybe our disrespect for keeping nature beautiful is just a consequence of having polluted hearts. If we can’t seem to stop the “littering” from the inside out by changing our hearts, maybe we can start from the outside in, by taking better care of our physical surroundings.
Beginning this Sept. 6, let’s keep it simple: Don’t litter — on land or online.