“Oh yeah it’s trash day,” I said to myself.
Tired, I retrieved a new bag from under the sink and began the process of purging the household of trash. I approached the task on autopilot, just another chore eating a soon-to-be forgotten moment.
But the moment had other plans and another witness.
Watching me move from trashcan to trashcan, like a lumbering bumblebee collecting industrial pollen, my five-year-old son asked what I was doing.
“Taking out the trash.” I mumbled without looking up.
“Out to where?” he asked in that please-explain-the-world tone children master with their first words.
“Well, you know, to the trash cans in the garage. Then I’ll take the cans to the road.”
“Why do you take the cans to the road?”
“So the trash men, who come in the middle of the night, can empty the cans and take the trash away to the recycling center.”
“In the middle of the night – like Santa?”
“Sort-a like Santa in reverse. But the trash men don’t have a sleigh and reindeer, they drive a huge garbage truck.”
Christmas had been a few weeks before and it was oddly refreshing to tell my son about real things that happened, almost magically, in the middle of the night.
“Wow,” he said in perfect amazement.
“But I have to do my part and get the trash to the road.”
“Can I help?” he asked hopeful.
I mulled it over a moment, rubbing my chin, looking him up and down.
“Well I suppose you’re big enough,” I said in pretend seriousness.
“OK!” he exclaimed, jumping up and down.
We finished collecting the trash, then dressed in boots, coats and gloves. The boy stood excited, holding a repurposed plastic grocery bag of used tissues, empty soapboxes and Q-tips. I opened the door and, like arctic explorers, we pressed into the freezing world of ice and snow.
It was already dark but the sky was clear and the moon bright. Large, feathery snowflakes fell gently through the crisp, windless night. The boxwood, holley and lavender were covered in thick white comforters of winter weaving.
The moonlight had a sparkling silver quality on the snow. The snow was soft, fresh and thick.
When it snowed like that, the snowplows buried the end of the drive with dense, icy barricades of frozen slush. So, the first order of business was clearing a spot for the cans.
I unhooked my heavy snow shovel from the garage wall and handed my son his red plastic shovel. Together we marched bravely down the drive and faced the mound.
We picked and chopped at the slushy ice, slowly clearing space for the cans. My son tossed little shovels of snow my way, laughing uncontrollably. I threatened retaliation and he fell backwards with a yell into the snowy ditch. Regaining his feet, he ran off like a mini Yeti into the night.
I finished clearing a suitable alcove in the frozen slush and started dragging the cans up the drive.
An ambush befell me from the yard. Small, hastily formed snow balls flew wildly through the air. Miraculously, I escaped by ducking behind the cans and returning fire. My attacker disappeared into the yard.
I set the trashcans in their niche and turned down the drive. The boy ran wildly up and down the yard, making crazy animal tracks laughing.
“Have to go in now,” I called. He ran up to me, plastic shovel in hand, face red as fruit punch.
“Can we take more trash out tomorrow?” He asked hopeful.
“Trash men only comes once a week.” He was crestfallen.
I bent down close. “Thanks for the help.” He wiped a sleeve under his running nose.
“Dad, it’s nice the Trash man takes care of us.”
Then as if the crisp sky above opened into my mind, I had a moment of clarity. The kid was right.
I didn’t appreciate it enough. I looked across the road into the night.
People were out there in the cold and dark taking care of us. People stood guard over us, manned emergency rooms, repaired utilities and roads and bridges and every manner of thing that serve us. Dependable people people did their jobs – some of them, very hard. And with the first morning light all our trash is gone.
It is nice, damn nice.
“I’m glad you know that Buddy. It’s important for us to appreciate it. The trash men are cool guys and they have a very important job.”
Then looking at my boy, red faced, nose dripping in the cold air, I was struck with how good it was to be there. How good it was to share that moment with my kid, to look beyond the chore and find something magical.
I’ll never forget the look of his face at that moment, his quick puffs of breath, the snow on his hat or the moonlight shining in his wide hazel eyes. That moment will always be with me.
It’s important to appreciate everyone who does their part and takes care of us. But even that is drained of meaning if we don’t appreciate the moments in our life.
Every moment is a treasure but we blind ourselves to their beauty with habits, work, worries and empty things that steal our time.
Now and then the scene before us is so striking, so poignant that it reminds us of that treasure – the beauty unfolding in the passing seconds.
I try to remind myself to shake off the day, open my eyes and see those moments. Those tiny, gleaming gems of life anchor your soul to good and beautiful things. Those are the moments that shape you with life’s mystery, depth and magic.
Appreciate life, those who share the journey and every moment you can.
Like a still winter night and a little boy by the trashcans.