Loaded the car with ALL the bottles and cans. I do mean loaded. Every space, trunk & interior, was filled two tiers and just the driver’s seat left open. I don’t remember when this was last done. In the pile was a wine bottle from Seven Springs Winery in Missouri which Howard and I visited in 2018. It surely could not have been THAT long, but… evidence suggests.
While stuffing glass bottles into a machine at the bottle return I hear a woman come unglued. Her victim was a man who was going through the garbage bins when I arrived. He had talked about the wonder of what people will discard. The woman’s tirade included his lack of a mask (this was the first time I had witnessed anyone calling someone out in person) that she had seen him going through the garbage in multiple places, how inconsiderate he was, that she had special needs kids at home and on it went. The man yelled back. I made half an attempt to play mediator. For a while it was very uncomfortable.
What I saw was a fearful woman stressed to the max. Her unloading has little to do with the man himself. It was the same as kicking the dog or yelling at the kids. It is about her fear, pain and lack of control in a world turned upside down. I also see the disconnect that is a symptom of the fear. Haranguing that the man was habitual going through the discard bins at multiple locations. That his presence was a threat. Totally misses the possibility that this is his source of income. In her fear she chose to lash out with shame and blame. In fear there is no room for compassion. Fight, flight, yes but no let me understand you.
Later (because there were several loaded cart trips from the car) the man engaged a boy in conversation. The boy was helping his father run through a substantial pile of cans. The man complimented the boy on his work. The boy shared that he got halves for helping. The man asked if the boy would spend his money on candy. At this point the father offered that they could give the can money to the man. The man declared he was okay, pulled out a wad of bills to prove it and told the boy he should spend his money on candy or something he wanted. The father complimented the man on his roll of bills and the man told them his strategy of only using half of what he got in a day to grow the roll. In this exchange I saw awareness, compassion and example. The same man. Two very different interactions.
At some point the “clear” glass machine was not accepting a clear Bacardi bottle. The man came over and explained sometimes the glass machines don’t read right and to use the colored glass machine. He took the Bacardi bottle and put it into the the colored glass machine which accepted it no problem. “Thank you. Good to know.” I wonder if I will remember that next time I’m returning bottles years from now.
I thought about this man spending his time at the bottle returns. He is doing what works for him. Taking what others leave as their patience for the process runs out or because they don’t know the ins of the glass bottle machines. The abuse by the woman did not run him off. The charity offered by a father did not soften his self reliance. He is out there, apparently frequently if not daily. Showing up.
I think it is easy to disregard people who are not living a life we would choose. To assume there is nothing to learn from those who appear to be getting by. How ever we define getting by.
This bottle return man was tenacious and resilient. What I know about myself is a verbal assault would derail me. For a day, possibly longer. I’d be caught up in the adrenaline then move in to the replay tapes. I’d rage against the woman long after she was gone. I would emote. Eventually I’d release the encounter and move forward. How much better off I’d be if I could let it go in the moment.
No matter who you are or what economic level you are at showing up is required. Nothing gets done if we don’t. And it does not matter what comes at us, angry frightened people, relaxed happy people, connection, dysfunction, you still need to show up daily. Do the work you’ve chosen. Keep back some of what you’ve gained each day. Note your successes. Pretty soon you’ll have a roll you’re proud of. You’ll confirm “I’m here. I’m making it.”
For Your Best Possible Self
Coach Christine Clark