Friday, April 16, 2010

ordinary magic

Just want to share this story from Bindu Wiles' blog.

Life talks to you when you look and listen. Being observant is one of the ways that magic touches you.

I was walking home today and took a different way than I usually do only by one block, so I was approaching my building from the opposite direction.

In NYC, (in non-doormen buildings), we take our garbage downstairs to the basement or courtyard or some other designated area, and put the garbage into big garbage cans that are lined with these thick black garbage bags.

Twice a week, people sort the recycling and drag/carry these huge black garbage bags out to the curb and pile them up on the curb for the sanitation trucks to come pick up. (Sometimes there are like 30 bags, sometimes triple that amount in bigger buildings in Manhattan. I live in Brooklyn, things are smaller here).

I walked past a building and saw an outrageous thing that didn’t register at first so a few steps later I stopped in my tracks and turned back.

A door was open to the basement of a building. It was a half a flight down underground.

In the doorway, lying on the cement floor, was an enormous pile of raw garbage- all sorts of food and containers that wasn’t in bags but just open. Rice and meat bones and sour cream containers…like that. It looked like the inside of your kitchen garbage can.

You couldn’t even get into the doorway, the garbage was so thick.

There was a boy teenager, standing knee deep in that garbage with gloves on and a pile of black garbage bags cleaning it up.

He had headphones on. I wanted to talk to him, so I went down a few steps and got his attention. He spoke broken English and I spoke broken Spanish, but I was trying to convey my shock to him and find out what the hell was going on. I had never seen anything like this ever before outside the garbage slums of India.

This kid, a 19 year old Mexican kid, was smiling and happy and laughing at my shock. He said it was like this every week. There aren’t enough garbage cans and so people leave the garbage in bags stacked up and they break open or the stray cats get at the bags and open them up.

It only takes him a couple hours he said, and he gets paid well. (I’m condensing all of this conversation. It actually took like half an hour. I need to brush up on my Spanish so I can speak faster and with less charades).

What blew me away about this kid was his happiness. He had no contempt whatsoever about his task. He wasn’t trying to make it any other way than what it was. It was just the situation and he was engaging it because that was his job. He wasn’t complaining or putting down the tenants or the landlords for not being better humans. He was just cleaning up the garbage. His demeanor was uplifted and unaffected by an absolutely disgusting situation.

We said goodbye and I walked home stunned. When I got home I couldn’t stop thinking about how inspired I felt by this kid’s attitude.

Awhile later, I went back out to see him again. He had his headphones on and was straightening the few garbage cans that were there and that were now empty with new black liners in them.

The floor was completely clean and he had swept and hosed down the concrete. On the curb were 20 or so neatly stacked and tied black garbage bags.

He didn’t see me he was so absorbed in his work, and I didn’t want to interrupt him. So I just watched.

And cried. I cried for all the people who have to do these gross jobs, for all of us who think we are above those kind of jobs, for everyone who has never known such happiness in the midst of what is seemingly a humiliating task.

I cried for the invisibility of his work. (We are so driven by acknowledgement).

And I cried because I was so moved by this kid’s decency and elegance and dignity that radiated out from a pile of raw garbage that was not his mess, but that he was cleaning up.

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