This I Believe

Richard - Burbank, California
Entered on September 5, 2007

This I Believe

Back in my teenage years, a group of friends and myself were cruising around in a car, enjoying the scenery, eating fast food along the way. I was sitting shotgun, so it was my responsibility to collect everyone’s trash, stuff it into a single bag then like a forgotten thought chuck the whole lot into the scenery. It was an out of sight, out of mind mentality back then. My lifestyle’s impact on nature meant nothing.

Many years later, an unlikely moment changed all of that. I was again driving in a car, stopped in traffic next to a vacant lot. Like others in this endangered species, this lot was going to be developed. All the vacant lots of my youth came to mind. They were our ball fields, shortcuts, where we built forts. More importantly, they were a city boy’s regular contact with nature. It was with weeds and dirt mostly, the occasional tree, but this was wild by suburban standards.

A switch flipped inside me. I became angry. Developers were eliminating nature all over town. All development in the world became criminal. I drove away from that vacant lot a different person. I don’t know why it happened then. Neither do I know why it hadn’t happened before, but my life became very dramatic for a while.

My original anger calmed down over time, but a subtler environmental spirit evolved in its place. Throwing away anything became a dilemma; as hard to do as tossing out that fast food trash had been easy. I found myself ordering soft drinks without straws and lids. When asked paper or plastic at the supermarket, I said canvas and laid my bags down. Everything I did became connected with some environmental tragedy. Simply holding a can of bug spray seemed like a sin against nature. It became my responsibility to ease my role in those tragedies.

It hasn’t been easy to do. Denying comfort and convenience that consume and pollute resources is like saying no to Christmas. Then there are the automatic routines of the service sector … compulsive bag filler-uppers, lid putter-oners, and straw putter-inners. They’re very quick. And try going into your favorite café, ordering a bagel and asking for no paper doily on the plate! Saying that out loud in public is odd. Yet I will have saved a lot of paper doilies in the end … maybe a small tree’s worth, plus the logging road leading to the tree, the erosion caused by the logging road, and all the milling, bleaching, and energy it takes to turn an amazing little tree into tiny paper accessories.

In the long run, I’m not really sure how much my lifestyle changes will help the environment. My life is better for the changes though. Actions that were once routine are now meaningful, and my life is much more meaningful for these actions.