The light was green but I wouldn’t budge. Richard, my 10 year-old son, sat in the passenger’s seat next to me. “Go, Mom.” “Did you just litter?” I asked Richard. “It was a tiny gum wrapper.” There was another honk. And then another. “Get it,” I said. “Get what?” “The wrapper. We don’t litter.” “Mom, go,” Richard said. The number of cars behind us grew and the honking got louder. Driving in Brooklyn is never easy. Congestion and road rage are common. “Pick it up, Richard,” I said, calmly. “Mom, it’s not a big deal. Just go.”
Still, I wouldn’t drive.
I guess Richard thought that retrieving his garbage was less embarrassing than having his mother cause major traffic and a scene because he got out of the car and picked up the wrapper.
Back in the car, Richard went on to tell me how throwing that one piece of paper out the window made no difference to the world. And I told him how I couldn’t disagree more.
Not littering is one way I show my respect and gratitude for the land we live on. It’s one way I give back.
I learned about giving, in small ways, early on, when at school we had a can drive every Thanksgiving and wrapped presents for poor children every Christmas. At Halloween, I walked door-to-door, an orange coin box in my hands, and collected money for Unicef. Around Easter, I sang in the school choir in old age homes.
Did those things not matter?
It is my opinion that those things mattered a lot. They mattered not only to the people who were on the receiving end, but they mattered to me. Acts of kindness are good for the soul. With Thanksgiving just two days away, I set out to write about giving and gratitude and almost didn’t thinking I should be more original. But then I came to this- maybe some things don’t get old; like love and peace and yes- gratitude.
Alicia Keys recently came out with a new song, We Are Here, which begets an important question, why are we here? Asking us to reflect on this stirs our sensibilities, and her intention was to start a movement. She has used her art as an impetus for people to come together and make a difference, make the lives of others better.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” ― Margaret Mead
Take the Ice Bucket Challenge for example. People cared and they responded. All over the world, people participated; and in just 3 weeks, ALS received 13.3 million dollars in donations and created enormous awareness.
Some think the challenge was about narcissism more than altruism but I disagree. I think there is a light in us called goodness. And it was sparked.
But we have to be careful because the light can just as easily be extinguished. In the opinion pages of The New York Times, Tim Kreider writes On Smushing Bugs and his description of what happens to people when they shut down, and forget to pay attention, seems relevant.
“A bug may be a small, unimportant thing, but maybe killing or saving one isn’t. Every time I smush a bug I can feel myself smushing something else too-an impulse toward mercy, a little throb of remorse. Maybe it would feel better to decide that killing even a bug matters.”
What I’m trying to say is that every little action, or inaction, is significant. And just as we can diminish an act, an act as small as killing a bug, we can commend its grandness not to. It’s about consciousness and conscience. It’s about compassion and respect.
So let’s show our thanks, whether it’s for the land we live on, or our ability to give to others. Pick something, anything at all. Be creative. You will inspire and motivate others to do the same. You can make a difference.