Image via WikipediaI think I can safely generalize that most men and all children don't pick up after themselves. I've lived with this predicament since my daughter was born, so I am not extremely sensitive to this fact of life. But sometimes I can't help myself, and I resist the urge to pick up stuff just to see what might happen.
I have a friend who made picking up stuff one of her life's missions. Every morning when she takes her dogs and husband for their morning walk on the beach at freezing temperatures, she carries a plastic bag and collects stuff. Not love notes or genies sealed in bottles, mind you. She once found a functioning lap top and a hundred dollar bill left by a pile of wet firewood. But most of the time she picks up empty beer cans and garbage left behind by environmentally challenged segments of humanity.
I, on the other hand, have no special affinity for things discarded by thoughtless strangers. I pick up stuff on a whim. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't, depends on my mood and depends on the offender. Paper napkins, old newspapers, an empty bag of chips? Yes. Used diapers? Absolutely not. Plastic bags with dog poop inside? Maybe.
Last week on my daily outing to the semi-wilderness area where I walk to clear up my mind and enjoy the outdoors, I saw a head of lettuce lying on the sidewalk by the paved road. It looked fresh and crispy and not one of its leaves were missing. It was a strange encounter, my brain noted. What does a head of lettuce do on a sidewalk in the semi-wilderness, surrounded by grass and oak trees? It couldn't have fallen from someone's pocket or thrown out of a car window. And it wasn't the typical offender found by the side of many country roads; the stained paper coffee cup, the hamburger wrapper, the plastic soft drink bottle.
I decided to leave the lettuce where it was and let the local wildlife enjoy it; the rabbits, deer, coyotes, wild turkeys, raccoons, and crazy squirrels who make suicidal dashes across the road to get from one side of nowhere to the other side of nowhere.
The next day I saw the lettuce again, still lying intact on the sidewalk. And the next day. And the next day. A week later it was still there. Wilted, some of its leaves separated from the head and lying next to it. But still there, on the sidewalk. Waiting.
I couldn't understand why it was still there. It's been a week since I first saw it. Other people must have seen it too since it was the only thing lying on the sidewalk. They had to step over it in order not to step on it. And it was obvious that no one had stepped on it. It was wilted, yet not stepped on. And certainly unmoved.
How come the squirrels were not interested? I wondered. Was anything wrong with them or with the lettuce?
I started to feel as if this wilting lettuce was testing me. Are you or are you not going to pick me up? I know you want to pick me up. I know you can't ignore me. I know you can't resist.
But what about all the other people, I wanted to ask this annoying lettuce who's been lying there for over a week, testing my resolve not to pick it up. Why me?
The next day I gave in. But instead of picking up the lettuce and tossing it in the nearest trash can, I kicked it and it landed in the yellow waist-high grass. I felt accomplished and self-righteous. I was the only person who took decisive action while all the others behaved as if that lettuce did not exist.
Yesterday there was no sign of lettuce in the waist-high grass.
Now I can't stop thinking what happened to it.