Saturday, my daughter and I headed out early, to the real city nearby. I grew up there, and consider it my hometown, even though I've lived in this little 300-person-1-traffic-light-1-m
ailbox village for several years now. As part of Earth Day awareness. the local Waste Management Department sponsors a Downtown Cleanup once a year. We had such a good time last year that we wanted to return this year, so after a big mug of my boyfriend, we hopped in the CorOLDla and made our way downtown. There were 60 volunteers in the effort, and we were again part of the team they dubbed High Street Heroes, since High St. was one area we'd be cleaning. After a bagel and more of the boyfriend, kindly donated by Tim Horton's, we grabbed our gloves, pinchy trash picker-uppers, and some garbage bags and headed to the bike trails, railroad tracks, alleys, and neglected corners of Springfield.
Sadly, one of the first things we noticed was that far too many people smoke. Even worse, far too many smokers seem to think it's okay to throw their butts everywhere, because we literally counted 112 cigarette and cigar butts in three square feet. We even found a roach (and I'm not talking about the insect variety).I suppose that's one way to keep the tobacco and pharmaceutical companies and Obamacare in business, but it's also pretty disgusting. I would say "no offense to smokers," but personally, I find smoking very offensive, and I find picking up hundreds of butts in every square inch of our town even more offensive. I'm not even going to concede to digression here; that remark was quite purposeful, because while I know it's very difficult to quit, I also know it's not impossible, and I find it rather foolish to knowingly inhale a toxic substance, to force others to inhale it, and then to leave trash lying all over the place because of it. There. I'm done firing my smoking gun. If you do it, try to quit...and please put your butts in an appropriate receptacle in the meantime.
We found a lot of interesting and disturbing things while we were cleaning up in some rather unsavory areas. I found a pair of Guess jeans hanging strangely on a fencepost in a deserted area near the railroad tracks, covered in rust and full of holes--too bad because they were the size I wear now! We found one Reebok, a kids size, smashed into the rocks next to those same tracks. There were wrappers from feminine hygiene products, a gallon jug of milk, a shotgun shell lying right on the sidewalk next to an old factory, and a dead bird on a sewer grate. I found a bag that was tied shut and had a bloody (yes, bloody!) sock sticking out of it, and we found a little kids' used toothbrush literally caught in a barbed-wire fence. Of course, amongst all this debris were more cigarette and cigar butts and tips, beer and pop bottles, and food wrappers and containers. I had no idea people eat so many Fruit Roll-Ups and gummy snacks, but the evidence was everywhere, and it seems the fast food of choice around here is Taco Bell, at least among litterers. Last year, my kiddo found a $20 bill next to a shrub, but we weren't so lucky this year.
The interesting thing about this, other than the fact that some of what we found might have been the link to solving some cold case files in our county (we found at least six strips of crime scene tape, torn up and lurking in odd places), was that as we made our way back to volunteer headquarters at the Elderly United building, my daughter noticed something. "Mom," she said, as she pinched yet another cigarette butt, ironically right next to the YMCA gym, where people are presumably trying to be healthy, "I can't feel my legs or feet." At first, it sounded like a complaint, but when she clarified that she meant she didn't feel any "hurting" or "tiredness" in her feet and legs, it dawned on me that I didn't either. Exactly a year ago, on our virgin voyage into community service, we had to stop every few blocks. I distinctly remember sitting on a half-wall of dilapidated bricks, making my daughter and nephews wait on me because I was out of breath and my feet were aching after walking as much as we did in that three hours. This year, even in those Skechers butt-busters that make you walk funny, I didn't have one ache or pain, nor was I out of breath, not even once (well, except for that scary moment under an overpass, when a guy who looked like the cross-country Forest Gump came down a deserted alley and kept staring at us like a Great White looking at a couple of swimmers. Quick! Call SVU!). In the days of old, I could barely walk down the potato chip aisle without wheezing like a chain smoker, but now, I had no trouble traversing several blocks, even rocky and grassy and broken concrete terrain around tracks and trails. Last April, in 2015, I had already lost 146.2 lbs. This year, I had lost over 170 when we went to Downtown Cleanup, and that made such a huge difference! Likewise, my hardworking kiddo has lost 25 or 30 lbs. of her own since then. Sure, I overate at the free Lee's Famous Recipe lunch they gave us for volunteering (it is not polite to give a just-after-goal girl chicken strips and chocolate chip cookies...and I didn't realize until after the fact that there are 220 calories in one little container of that honey mustard dipping sauce! Seriously! Look it up on their website!) Still, I was thrilled that I am at the weight now where I can move without feeling it so much, if at all, and I was thrilled to hear that my daughter is noticing these positive changes in herself as well.
It's important that we take care of Earth, but it's just as important that we take care of earthlings. There is a lot of trash to clean up in our own unsavory areas. For me, when I started out at a filthy 329 lbs., the biohazards were my belly, butt, thighs, arms, four chins and... Well, you get the point. Just as a town will be more beautiful and usable when that trash is hauled out, so will you be when you get rid of the excess debris you don't need to keep carrying around. As I work to take out the garbage and get back to my goal, then to keep from littering my body with junk again, I will remember that we can do more when there is less of us. We can make a bigger mark in the world when we leave a shallower footprint. Does this mean we will never eat a Fruit Roll-up or go to Taco Bell again? No! What it does mean is that if we're going to eat these things, we account for them; we "manage it," as Oprah's brilliant writers put it in that annoying WW commercial, so the garbage doesn't pile up. At some point in time, most of us have some big butts to deal with, but we can control what we do with those butts, and they don't have to be littered with excess!