I was out walking my dog the other day and I saw an older woman walking slightly ahead of me. I didn’t recognise her. She suddenly stopped and reached down with a pair of tongs and picked up some rubbish. Then, she proceeded to place it in a bag she was carrying with her. I was intrigued. She wasn’t wearing a city uniform and she was alone. She didn’t seem like someone being employed to do this. I concluded that she was doing it of her own free will, because, for some reason, she cared.
It hit me hard what a beautiful thing she was doing. She was helping keep our neighbourhood clean, seemingly for no reward or even recognition.
I started to question my own behaviour. I’ve always felt extremely annoyed that the twice-yearly neighbourhood cleaning days have always been early in the morning on a Sunday, with the task being to weed up around the more expensive houses up the hill. After a full week of work, neither my husband nor I are generally willing to give up our one chance a week to take it slow in the morning and so, after the first couple of times taking part, we’ve since chosen to pay the 2000 yen fine, joking that we are helping out with the jichikai (neighbourhood community association) beer fund for their next party.
I started to question if I’ve been doing enough. I walk my dog in this area daily and often feel frustrated when he tries to grab litter on the ground. I assume it has largely been thrown out of windows, as cars pass by. I’ve frequently speculated as to why people can’t be more considerate of the environment, but I’ve never done anything concrete about it, other than to make sure I don’t litter myself. That’s where my responsibility ends right? Surely it isn’t my job to pick up after others who can’t be bothered? I wondered why this woman took it on. Surely city taxes should cover someone coming out and being paid to clean things up?
I think it might have been the very same day, perhaps the next, that I randomly watched a movie called “Pay it Forward” with my child. It just happened to flash up on my Netflix and it looked like a good family movie. It’s the story of a young boy who tries to make the world a better place with random acts of kindness. The only payment he asks for is that the person pay the kindness forward to somebody else. His theory is that if he carries out three kind acts, and each recipient then does the same, then it will spread far and wide, ultimately changing society for the better. It was an inspirational and heart-warming story, well until the end, anyway. (Warning. For anyone who hasn’t watched this movie and would like to, make sure you have a tissue box at the ready.)
The movie gave me even further food for thought. Do I ever do anything just for the pure sake of giving? Or do I act under the premise of generally expecting to get something back in return? Honestly? I think many times it’s the latter.
Over the last few days my mind kept returning to the woman picking up rubbish. What if I followed her example and went out and did the same? What if I did it simply because, a cleaner neighbourhood would benefit everyone? What if someone saw me doing it and questioned whether they are doing enough? What if they then went out and picked up rubbish themself? What if all of our neighbourhoods became cleaner and nicer places to live in?
I decided I had to do it. I also decided this would be a great thing to do with my child (11, they/them). It could be a perfect teaching and learning moment for both of us.
So, this evening, after they came home from school, I told them excitedly about my plan to go out for a walk with our dog and pick up rubbish alongside the road. They thought it was a great idea. So that is what we did. We grabbed some tongs, some plastic bags to separate the rubbish into, and off we went. The dog enjoyed the leisurely stroll, the neighbourhood got a little cleaner and I got some precious time to chat to my child as we wandered down the road looking for litter.
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