As I round the corner onto my block, I notice a car parked under the shade of a tree across the street. It’s an unfamiliar vehicle but it’s a familiar occurrence: someone’s lunch break. The windows are usually up on the idling car and the person is usually staring at their phone. I near the car in time to see the driver roll down the window just enough to flick a cigarette out.
This annoys me.
In the ninety minutes I’ve been walking I have seen enough fireworks debris to set up my own explosive-free display. I’ve crisscrossed sidewalks to avoid what I consider militarized lawn care. And now on my block, a person litters. I have the urge to pick up her cigarette butt and knock on her window. But Rona stops me. Instead I tear a leaf from my neighbor’s redbud and scoop the butt with it. When we catch each other’s eye, I resist the urge to scrunch my face and wag my finger, like the old schoolmarm I am. Instead I turn away and keep walking. Even though it was awkward, I did the right thing for the planet. I feel righteous.
For about two seconds.
Then I realize it doesn’t matter. I mean, what difference does it make? There are more pressing issues. Like why do we need this? And what is the externalized cost of it and who pays it?
And what’s the point of an educational system that doesn’t teach citizens to respect water? You know if it’s on the ground it ends up in our water, right?
And what kind of society creates work environments where people want to sit in their cars for an hour to eat a meal out of a paper bag or Styrofoam box? Or is that the only way some people get time to themselves?
As I enter my house holding the butt in the leaf, I wonder what the woman thought. Was she angry? Embarrassed? Did she have a gun to pull out if she was either? Did she care? What was happening in her life that made sitting in her car for lunch in a strange neighborhood the choice for today?
I think that’s the saddest part of all: I’ll never know.
The environmental movement sure taught me a lot about what harms our planet. But it overlooked the part about how deeply entrenched we all are in habits, rituals and systems that harm us. And each other.
Maybe it’s no accident the redbud leaf is shaped like a wide open heart.