I’ve been tidying up lately-getting rid of seldom used items and generally removing trash from as many places as I might find it. On daily walks, I carry a bag with me to collect whatever I can carry. I’m saddened by the garbage and the more I dwell on the disregard for the landscape, the heavier my bag feels. Magically, though, because I am walking, endorphins cause hope to rise within me. When I pick up a crumpled cup, I discover a first bud on the wild ginger. Slowly, I let go of the disgust and concentrate instead on that which is revealed by my clearing.
These ruminations remind me of a passage in the novel Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson. The main character, Trond, falls off his horse after challenging his father to a race. Trond’s father laughs, then easily catches the runaway horse “in a way that told the whole world this too was something he could do.” Trond remains on the ground until his father rides back and apologizes:
It was incredibly stupid of me to laugh. Does it hurt a lot anywhere?
Not really, I said,
Only a little bit in your soul?
Maybe a bit.
Let it sink, Trond, he said. Just leave it. You can’t use it for anything.
I have often wondered what things I am carrying that I should just let sink. It seems there is a difference between ignoring an issue and allowing it to settle to the depths.
When you let something sink you have assessed its weight and know that it is heavy; it is pulling you down. You know that once it is sunk it will not float -you will rise above it-you will be free to move again in your environment.
Ignored issues are not in your hands; they are wrapped around your feet, dragging you under from time to time with their anonymous burden. I think of the burdock plant out in a neighbour’s field. It is innocuous and generally I ignore it but occasionally I sense it out of the corner of my eye and think its bulk is a bear. I glance at it and then it is on my mind; one day I will chop it down because of the momentary stress it causes but once I’ve passed the field, I forget about dealing with it. That’s how it works with things you ignore-they loom up when your mind is least expecting it.
So back to picking up garbage, literally and figuratively. Dwelling on the reasons why people litter or holding on to grudges or feelings of ill will serves no useful purpose-I will let my resentment sink and concentrate instead on that which is now allowed to rise.
Strangers thank me for picking up garbage. We chat and admire the views. Gratitude bubbles up from that which is sinking.