I was standing outside, miles from home, with a trash bag in hand. A liquid of questionable make-up was running down my ankle from where I’d accidently brushed a leaky corner of the bag with my leg. It was a perfect morning.
My hubby, a regular member of the local Rotary Club had volunteered us all for a service project on Saturday. All of us. Even her Royal Highness. Our task was to go to a nearby park and walk the trail, scooping up litter along the way. When we arrived, the volunteer coordinator gave my boys a grabbing tool, a pair of gloves, and draped an adult sized fluorescent yellow vest labeled Park Volunteer vest over Kiddo’s shoulders. Then we’d gotten to work.
Kiddo decided it was a contest. Little did the other volunteers know, but they were now locked into a race against the clock to gather the most amount of garbage. It was a contest Kiddo was determined to win. The boy ran down hills, jumped into the brush, and time after time returned with a bottle, can, or cigarette butt clenched in his grabbing tool’s claws as proudly as if the trash were trophy.
Other park visitors were quick to notice, coming over to thank my son for his service. I beamed with every compliment they bestowed upon my son as I clutched our trash bag, now made heavy through his efforts.
Another couple from the club met us on the path. They’d finished inspecting the next section and it was time to head back. We turned to follow with Kiddo still on the lookout for any scrap that might have been missed. LT, more eager than his brother to call it a morning, begged his father to carry him the rest of the way. In order to shield our ears from the full assault of preschool cries, Lamont scooped LT up, placing him on his shoulders while I took charge of holding her Royal Highnesses leash in one hand and the trash bag in the other.
The path narrowed as we rounded the corner to the final bit of stairs leading to the park’s exit and a group of women approached us. I glanced at Kiddo, once again off the path in search of loose trash, as I anticipated the comments that would surely come.
A woman screamed.
Not the reaction I was expecting. I looked over. I realized then I’d let the lead grow too long and in that split second of inattention, Her Royal Highness had decided to make new friends.
The woman screamed again, clearly not interested in Her Royal Highness’ friendship. The group parted and I saw they too had a dog in tow. Only her dog was not idly sniffing around as if she was annexing the grounds as was mine. Hers was on its hind legs as its owner tried to yank its leash up to heaven. The dog barked frantically, mirroring the emotions of its owner. I pulled Her Royal Highness back to my side as soon as I realized what happened. Her Royal Highness, bored by the exchange, came at once without complaint.
So… almost a perfect morning.
I started to head back toward the stairs, but the other dog’s owner wasn’t yet satisfied. Turning she shouted a number of things at me and mine not caring at all who heard her spew, including my children.
I could have returned her righteous anger with my own. The encounter was an unwelcome surprise to us both. I hadn’t seen her dog. Didn’t she see my children? We were doing our part to make the park better, for people like her to enjoy. If anything she should be the one apologizing to them if not to me for her extended reaction.
I could have, but I didn’t say any of those things. I didn’t say anything at all. Instead, I simply looked at the stairs in front of me and decided my enjoyment of the morning would not be ruined by a passing moment. I’d reach the top, dispose of my bag, and be on my way.
I know the bags of mental negativity are far less easy to get rid off once you let them weigh you down. I could see all to clearly their impact on her in her body language as she continued down the path and could hear how she still simmered over my lack of reaction to her words or actions as the distance between us increased. I knew I didn’t want that kind of energy.
She’d tried her best to hand her bags of negativity to me. To spread her anger like the litter we’d collected, but I hadn’t let her. I’d resisted taking anything more than this little scrap for the purpose of telling a story. After all, my hands were full. I realized then I felt sorry for her. Not sorry enough to share her burden, but sorry she wouldn’t have the kind of day I’d had, even if it there had been a scattering of litter along the way.
I felt a cool drip on my leg, reminding me of the mystery liquid, best left unexamined and my need to get home and take a long shower. It was definitely time to make our exit. Kiddo’s face flashed another smile before shouting he’d collected another wrapper. At the top of the stairs, Kiddo announced to the volunteer coordinator he was the day’s winner.
I smiled. He was a winner for sure, but it would seem, I’d won too.