Sunday, September 25, 2016


I cannot begin to number the times I have been worked up about it since I have lived in Washington, DC.

Trash.  That is the thing about my life I can least stand.

Literal trash.  Not metaphorical trash.  Of the two, I do better dealing with the second kind.  But bottles, wrappers, used Q-tips, grocery store receipts, cigarette butts, flattened cans, broken glass, newspapers, and more random stuff just littering the sidewalks and streets in my neighborhood challenge me in ways that even after more than a decade still startle me.  The street is marginally better than it was a few years ago.  Or maybe I am just getting used to it. 

Today in mid-morning except for the occasional passer-by the street was uncommonly placid.  Minimum cars were parked where it is usually difficult to find a vacant space.  A stray bottle, some paper, and other bits of trash stood out as I scanned the sidewalk in front of our building.  I grabbed a trash bag, a broom, and a dustpan.  I couldn’t stop.  I walked half the block in one direction, sweeping and cleaning.  Then I worked an even greater distance in the other direction.  I stopped when my bag was full.

Joe looks at me askance when I get into street cleaning.  I think he has no more patience than I with people who litter.  Perhaps even less.  Why do I spend my time doing something that I know within hours will be completely undone?  Well, because it is a known fact that people tend to litter more when litter is already present.  So in some sense what I am doing is preventive maintenance. 

When I was little, I could not stand to be dirty.  I didn’t want to play outdoors.   I did not want to soil my clothes.  I thought for a long time that all the ways I really am attracted to various forms of dirt, both literal and figurative dirt, bore evidence of my shadow side.  I have come to understand that my fetish with cleanliness is itself laden with shadow for me.  Through it I express a certain intolerance, a self-righteousness, a disdain for those who mar and sully “my” world.  Through somewhat compulsive cleaning I externalize my perfectionism or what’s left of it. 

I sweep on.  I use my broom and dustpan as tools for meditation.  Instead of loathing the litterbugs, I practice trying to understand them.  Instead of raging on the inside, I try exercising some love towards them.  I try to see the empty bottle as having once been held to a mouth to quench a thirst.  I try hard to see the Styrofoam plate not just as environmental sin but as having once held food that fed some growling stomach.  Even the infernal cigarette butts.  They once stuck to the lips that some lover kissed and desired.  

Well, the street is cleaner now.  I feel better.  Even though I realize that after all, I’m not so clean myself.

© Frank Gasque Dunn, September 16, 2016

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