I remember putting out my recyclables out one Wednesday night years ago. The next morning as I backed out of the driveway on my way to work, I noticed that the fierce, howling wind had blown over one of my recycling containers and its contents had been scattered across the street in my neighbor’s yard, and in my next door neighbor’s yard, and so on. I put the car in park and left it running in the driveway while, with my high-heeled boots and my purse still strapped over my shoulder, I carried the empty blue can with me down the street, reclaiming my recyclables from just about all the neighbors’ yards.
Embarrassed, I wondered if I was being watched from the windows as I ventured onto properties, awkwardly retrieving my litter while the wind blew my hair in all directions. As far as I could see my empty jars, bottles and cans were strewn across lawns, some pieces wedged between the earth and the decorative landscaping. Was there no end? Even in back yards I tiptoed through gardens, retrieving mayonnaise jars, water bottles, empty soup cans, etc. Finally, when I could spot no more of my “empties” in the neighborhood, I turned toward home with a gnawing sense that somewhere out there my empty two-gallon water jug was blowing across someone’s lawn like a stray balloon, perhaps a block or two over.
Carrying the big blue can back to my house I thought my work was done. Not so. The other recycling container had been toppled by a mad gust of wind and the lid from my regular trash can was flying like a giant Frisbee! Lucky, I caught the lid before garbage began flying out of the trash can. The contents of the newly blown over container hadn’t gotten too far yet. Most of it was still in my yard, but I had to chase several errant, rolling plastic bottles toward the street before snatching them up in my clutches. The closer I got, the faster they rolled away from me! Again, I felt embarrassed and wondered if I was being observed from windows.
As I picked up the last piece from the yard and put it in the can, it struck me. No one else’s gravy cans were rolling around in the street, no one else’s mayonnaise jars or plastic milk jugs were flying through the yards. In fact, no one had their recyclables out. And that’s because I was off by a week; it wasn’t even recycle day!
“My children who had been off from school for a long weekend told me weeks later that my frustrated cries had roused them from bed. Hysterically they had watched from the windows, validating the embarrassment I had felt. I can’t help but wonder how many others were entertained that day by my adventure?
I reflected with great clarity that we all have our garbage, baggage and issues we choose to keep private. We don’t often dump our stuff before random people. Boundaries are crucial in all relationships, yet we don’t want to erect walls that are barriers to friendships. One of my favorite American poets, Robert Frost said, “Good fences make good neighbors”, but he probably didn't envision flying recyclables. My fence isn’t high enough to contain such lightweight items aloft in the mighty wind. So maybe I don’t have a “good fence”; even so I hope he would still consider me a “good neighbor”.