MY PET PEEVE
My current roommate has a pet cat named Sammy; a former roommate has a pet dog named Charlie. When I was a kid a neighbor had a pet boa constrictor and I had a pet gerbil named Herman. People have pet monkeys, pet tarantulas and all other manner of exotic “pets”.
I have a pet peeve. Wikipedia, that flawless incontrovertible source of all facts defines “pet peeve” as a minor annoyance that an individual identifies as more maddening to one’s self than to anyone else. A key aspect of a pet peeve is that it may well seem acceptable to others.
My pet peeve’s name is Trash.
It’s everywhere. Found on roadsides, in parking lots, in the woods on foot paths, on park benches, even public restrooms. Its existence is ubiquitous. Empty paper and plastic cups, plastic bottles, used fast food containers, plastic knives, forks and spoons have been found on the ground in city parks 4 feet from a public waste bin. This is telling.
I spend a good deal of time on my bicycle (thus the name of my blog). As such I see miles and miles of roadsides noticing a few things. For example, there are spectacular vistas that are available to anyone who cares to slow down long enough to take a look. Literally from sea to shining sea there are vast mountain ranges, hundreds of square miles of rolling countryside under cultivation with the capacity to produce abundance. There are wide-ranging deserts, private, forbidding and secretive. They hide their treasure and mysteries from the uninitiated. The continental U.S. contains extensive waterways, lakes, rivers and streams creating endless expanses in their own right. Even some cities boast beautiful skylines that prove aesthetically pleasing to the eye. Good fortune has allowed me to walk; hike or pedal through considerable stretches of it and it is truly magnificent.
My amazing powers of observation have also revealed that roadsides are often public waste receptacles. And it’s not just here in the U.S. Travelling outside our borders, to other countries, other continents I see it’s the same everywhere. I recently pedaled/walked 500 miles across northern Spain much of it rural. The economic crisis has caused some major issues there with the accumulation of rubbish. There is not much money for municipal waste management so it is often piled high in some locales or simply dumped in fields abandoned by farmers. And it smells…bad. I suppose it’s not so bad here in the U.S. relatively speaking. But it does beg a bigger question: How can I study garbage and through what lens can I survey its implications?
I would certainly begin with the basics: cultural, historical, economics, class, and politics. Not to mention the environment. I’ll take these on one at a time to avoid this post becoming a tome. But don’t worry, I’ll be writing about that later.
Ultimately it comes down to me. Of course it’s all about ME. I like to pick up trash. Not all the time but on occasion I’ve “stooped” to carry away a few cans and bottles. I recently emptied a household sized garbage can full of water outside the office where I work and discovered what I think were rotting bags of dog poop. I was careful how I disposed of that in a more appropriate manner.
My picking up trash does not make much of a dent in the overall landscape but it matters to me. And it most certainly does not engender me to sainthood quite the opposite in fact. I find it an excellent gauge of my level of self-righteousness. I don’t know about you guys but there is a constant stream of commentary going on in my head. Sometimes it’s music, or a series of mental pictures of birds I’m trying to identify by song I hear. I even have conversations with people who aren’t even there. That’s the worst. I call that KFUCK Radio. When I pick up litter I become Empress of the Universe, full of judgment about whoever threw it or dropped it. I don't even know who it is. But the ongoing treatise becomes a one way barrage of negativity that dogs my every step and sucks me dry. My good friend Mike says that the Buddha’s approach would be to breathe and “notice” the response. In other words, I should allow feeling and not thinking. Wanting to smack someone upside the head with a 2x4 is NOT “noticing” the response. That’s reacting.
Picking up trash has become a spiritual practice. I love how it serves as the barometer. Aside from the previously mentioned cultural, historical and socio-economic allusions, it serves as a meditation. It is simple really. Can I pick it up without feeling “peeved”? Absolutely NOT! That’s why I do it and that's why I'm not on my way to sainthood. It is prayer. The goal is not necessarily to clear the world of garbage though that would be nice too. The objective is to pick it up, notice the sensation (which is really sadness and grief) and cultivate equanimity and compassion. So in the end I guess I could say that my pet peeve Trash serves me very well.
Thanks for reading.