I am very blessed to live in a nice middle class neighborhood with a great trail system, which I run twice a week. I run past a small marsh, thick with cattails where the redwinged blackbirds like to perch. The trail then curves up through natural grass, dotted with native shrubs where the bunnies scatter, distracting my dog from our mission. We continue toward a small park where I often hear the squeals of happy children. Then my dog and I turn left and run beside a field thick with alfalfa, bumble bees busy on the rich, purple blooms. This leads me to the small lake where many others are also running or walking with dogs and friends. One lap of the lake and we return by the path that brought us.
This run is good for my body and my soul. It helps reduce my stress levels and gives me time to soak in the beauty God created for us all to enjoy. I deeply breathe in the scent of whatever is in bloom at the time, whether it be crabapples, lilacs, alfalfa, or Russian olives. From the dam, there is a stunning view of the front range fringed with the ancient cottonwood trees billowing green below.
The one sadness I experience on my run is the volume of garbage that litters my beautiful trail. A little is to be expected as toddlers pitch empty baggies and juice boxes from strollers, used tissues fall from pockets and empty chip bags sometimes blow out of park trash cans. But where the garbage is most prevalent is nearest the road, not far from the Taco Bell. Here I find a plethora of fast food wrappers and mashed cups, smashed cigarette boxes and booze bottles.
The first few times I ran, this sight brought all sorts of judgmental thoughts to my mind of reckless kids from our neighborhood, sneaking away from home or school to smoke weed, get drunk, and binge on burritos in the low areas of this beautiful place. I’ve seen them doing it. I also thought critically about the parents of these kids. This really marred the emotional benefit of my run, especially since the litter was most visible as I was nearing my home.
After a couple of weeks, I decided to take a different approach. Instead of focusing on WHO did this and WHAT should be done about it and WHO should be held responsible, I decided to quit thinking pointless, negative and judgmental thoughts and instead, to just do something about it. Since I always bring a little bag to clean up after my dog, I decided to start bringing a bigger bag and fill it up at the end of each run. I’ve also considered sending an email to Taco Bell headquarters and let them know that 75% of the litter on our beautiful path has the Taco Bell logo on it. Perhaps they will start sending employees out to pick it up at the end of each shift. Maybe not, but it’s certainly worth asking.
It’s been a couple of months of my new ritual. The trail continues to get littered, but I’m proud of myself for getting in the game instead of just complaining about it. I no longer feel as angry at the end of my run. I imagine other single parents (like me) who struggle much more than I do. Maybe they work two jobs and can’t be home as much to teach the kids good manners. Maybe they are diligent parents but the kid is rebellious. I decide to give them the benefit of the doubt. They are doing the best they can and the kids are temporarily knuckle heads just like I was as a teenager, but in different ways.
Picking up a bag of trash takes an extra 30 seconds out of my day and when I see my neighbors on the path, they smile at me with appreciation. Perhaps one day they will bend over and pick up a bit themselves. Regardless, I am setting a positive example and making a small difference. I am proud of who I have chosen to be in this world.
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