I heard the grinding machine of the garbage truck at the corner at the end of our street.
Then, like one of Pavlov’s dogs, I rushed out the door, peered down to our curb, my blood pressure gathering steam.
Ah, relief! My son had faithfully fulfilled his chore; our cans were full, and in their proper places.
As I took a morning stroll around the neighborhood, the garbage truck followed, its panic-inducing crunching and whining an alarm, rousing neighbors to their windows and doors. I saw two sets of neighbors overburdened by bags and cans of trash, hobbling at breakneck speed down driveways, like delinquent children trying to catch the bus.
Labor shortages and a change in our local waste management company have led to recent delays, where the refuse and recycling piled up for weeks. Oh, the stench!
Every year I teach the fall of the Roman Empire, and one of the familiar sightings in that decline is the steady breakdown and then collapse of government maintenance. Thankfully, at least for now, we’ve avoided the Apocalypse here in Burlington.
Sometimes, we forget to put out the trash.
We’ve just returned from our summer trek to Oklahoma.
This trip is always a blessing to me on multiple levels, because I get to see family and friends that I love and trust dearly, and this year all the more because my kin were whole, joyous, holding tightly to the good. Some, like me, were struggling, but we're also headed in the right direction. It was a hopeful sojourn.
I also benefit from the driving. Usually four days of solid road trip (2 there-2 back), averaging about 10-11 hours each. This year we visited my Aunt Pat in Ruston, LA, which added a worthwhile fifth day.
Many people wonder that we can do this trip year after year. All those dragging days, humming over the interstate, meandering from state to state (18 this year!). It is harder on my back and knees and hips than it used to be. Yet, I am grateful for those days too.
I have time to evaluate my life, in relative silence, on an annual basis. Sadly, every year, I recognize there are things that need readjustment, and some things have to go.
We get busy, and the clutter piles up in the corners of our heart.
Anger, resentment, despair.
Pride, sloth, gluttony, lust.
About a week before our trip, I was blessed by two providential lifelines.
I’d been drifting, badgered by despair, seen daily, around the world and in the darkness of my own heart. I was afraid for my faith, and the feeling was not unlike that panic of hearing the garbage truck, a desperate feeling I’d miss my chance to be made whole.
So, I took out my prayer rope, and began to insistently meditate on Christ. It was a sort of flailing act of war against my doubts, an anchor against the tide carrying me away. It was a willful act of faith and hope, and it carried me through the storm.
Second, a friend counseled me to carefully and purposefully build patterns around the things I valued, and weed out those that choke, and to do so with the urgency of the farmer, who will starve if he does not tend.
Yesterday, I weeded my front beds, which had become a small jungle while we were in OK, and it brought me back to the days when I worked for my Pops. I went in with gusto, soil up to my elbows, and earned a thick layer of dirt under my nails.
It was good, satisfying to see the piles of debris I’d removed. Thing is, those nasty little stranglers will be back, just like my doubts.
It’s in our nature to sink, to regularly allow hurt and ego to strangle out the good things we love, rob us of gratitude and joy.
I’m removing the clutter from my heart, again, and it is work.
I pray blessings on you, that you would begin or continue the work of trimming and pruning all that hinders your wholeness.
"Examine all things; hold on to the good."
-Saint Paul the Apostle