Most days I take the same route to work at my law office. My tunes are playing and I am engrossed in my mental list of things I want to make sure I get done. I have found I need to do this or the minute I hit the office the phone is ringing and the emails are coming in and if I am not careful, my day is gone on new matters and crisis and I have not accomplished the things I wanted to make sure to finish. If I am not careful the day is gone before I know it.
A number of years ago I noticed that on my daily drive I was passing the same two older, possibly retired guys walking on the sidewalk on the same side of the street. It was a slow driving street so I would see them up ahead coming towards me as I drove in the opposite direction.
The first maybe ten times or more they were there and even though I noticed them I did not really take note of them or think much of them. They were probably in their late sixties or early seventies, and either close friends or possibly brothers. One was slightly taller than the other and they walked at a lively clipped pace. They both had evidence of a few too many Friday night beers that now rested in their bellies. They both had a head of white hair and gray full beards that showed some attempt to stay trimmed but not quite evenly and the bottom crest of their beards landed on their middle chest reminding one of the nostalgic Santa pictures that Coke used in their ads for years. They were out, it seemed, no matter what the weather or the season.
They walked as if on a mission, arms swinging and talking as they made their way around the blocks or who knows where for fresh air, exercise or just to get out of the house. As I saw them more frequently I began to notice them more closely. Every day they carried an old Wal-Mart or target bag and you could see that it held crushed cans and some paper. It occurred to me on a day when I was not as self absorbed as usual that they were bending over occasionally and filling the bag with small garbage bits discarded by others and aluminum cans. The two made my mind wander and imagine and make up reasons why they were doing this.
They were keeping the streets clean as they walked along. Had they started their walking routine to stay in shape, get fresh air, and get out of the house? As they did this repeatedly walking along sharing stories and discussing retired old guy interests, they walked long enough and often enough that they started to be bothered by others’ discarded garbage on the streets they walked every day. Offended by others’ discarded garbage, and wanting to make sure their streets were up to their standards, they started to bring the bag and collect.
I suspect that they had little interest in the can collection fee but by the very amount of time they spent on those streets they now felt ownership of them and a certain responsibility that ones feels to keep their own home clean, so as they developed their feeling of ownership they collected and cleaned up, never breaking conversation but just proceeding with the understanding that after their walk the streets were better than when they started.
Their world is small and constant. A walk every morning around the neighborhood. But instead of walking and not taking in their environment they are improving it. Just two bearded guys and a bag of cans, making the world better in their own small way.
Whenever we think we cannot make a difference and the world problems are just too big to tackle. I think of the two bearded guys who are making a difference every day on University Avenue.