Monday, May 18, 2015

Mark Olmsted

After moving to a working class neighborhood in Los Angeles, my first reaction to the trash-filled streets was to say a well-known prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” As I walked my dog every day, I thought the litter was something I just had to accept. After all, what was I supposed to do? Pick it up?

The thought was like a pebble in my shoe. Try as I might I just couldn’t shake it loose.

So one day, I decided to do just that: Pick it up. In a leap of faith, I went down to Home Depot, bought myself an E-Z Reacher, and started plucking the empty cigarette packs, soda cans, fast food packaging, coffee containers, newspapers, styrofoam cups, and just about anything you can think of into plastic grocery bags. For over five years now, I have filled at least four bags every morning, one for each block of my dog-walking route. Sometimes, I do it again on different streets in the afternoon, especially if I’m having a bad day.

I believe in picking up trash because it’s taught me that you can’t assume to know the difference between the things you must accept and the things that you can change—you have to think about it. It’s taught me to question the premise of all sorts of assumptions I had previously made, from the idea that the only possible reaction to traffic is anger and frustration, to the belief that I was a hopeless addict who couldn’t possibly get clean.

Every morning, pickingEvery morning, picking up trash is my answer to the questions: How can I be of service today? What do I have the courage to change? And every night, no matter how much the day didn’t seem to go my way, I can fall asleep counting the bags of trash I’ve picked up, comforted that in this lifetime I’ve been able to find one thing to do that’s unarguably, unambiguously good.

-Mark Olmsted