I remember as a child watching a heart wrenching commercial that pulled me out of my small universe of simple play and minute to minute existence into an adult vortex of thinking about the world.
An older man in his fifties appeared on the right side of the screen walking down an urban highway. He had long hair and Native-American features. The scene pans to his feet and the cement underneath it which is laced with trash on what I understood was his ancestors’ soil.
For the first time, I saw the land not as the ugliness of the cityscape that numbed me into disrespecting it, but something alive, breathing, and with a heartbeat. A tear welled up in his eye and I couldn’t look at him in the face. I was ashamed of my betrayal of the environment.
I had let candy wrappers drift from my hands onto the street and set soda cans up against buildings. I barely noticed when the trash filled up and spilled over, floating abandoned items along dirty water collecting in the gutters. All my household trash went down an incinerator – I never saw it land. I never thought it had consequences.
The BP oil spill scared me because no one seemed able to fix it for so long, but disposing of urban garbage properly is always within our ability. I recycle, and my husband ardently composts, but I take short cuts that make me guilty because I now know the difference my decisions make.
The United States throws away enough office and writing paper annually to build a twelve foot wall across the country. And yet I take what seems to be an itty bitty piece of paper and slip it into the garbage rather than put it in the recycling. Instead of washing the peanut butter jar, I toss it into the trash instead of the blue box. Glass never wears out because it can be recycled forever. I lose the possibility of forever when I toss without facing the consequences.
When I see a McDonald’s bag in the middle of the street, I realize we may be choosing guilt and abandonment over fixing the problem and changing our habits against the land. I blamed BP, but I must blame myself. There’s an active spill in Boston and it comes from our pockets and our garbage, and it needs to be capped immediately.