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Staring at Piles of Trash

The world is full of grime and foulness. Some places more than others. And I cannot help seeing it there on the parking lot asphalt at Vallarta or in the dark on the sidewalk where the cockroaches skitter past my sandaled feet. I caught sight of a bearded man pulling up his pants after squatting in the gutter last night on Beverly Boulevard. I see red-faced men standing in the check-out line with their Modelo boxes, and I see the heavily made-up ladies with their see-through blouses and hot pants pulling their significant others down the grocery store aisles. I see despondency and weariness in the sunken eyes of the security guard. On the drive home from the grocery store, I see the pile of broken furniture, papers, shoes, and glass at the bottom of our alley. That pile continues to grow and spread as people riffle through the debris that some residence left there. It makes our neighborhood feel run down.

I was paying for a decaf coffee at the Dunkin’ Donuts drive thru, and Rose from the back seat said, “That lady is pretty.” She was referring to the cashier who was rather lovely. She was young and looked like she might be from Spain with her high cheek bones and almond-shaped eyes. I agreed with Rose who then said. “You’re not a pretty lady, Mommy.” I decided to ignore that last bit. Why even address it? Children will talk, and while I could correct it, some things I must let pass. 

There is too much unpleasantness in the world to correct. Too much that can cause offense or loss of appetite. Too much dirt and rudeness. And I think I must let most of it pass me by like a thoughtless comment from a child. It is neither my responsibility nor in my best interest to point or comment or post.

This isn't some sort of blindness to the ugliness in the world or putting a smiley face on a terrible situation. Rather, it's not staring at the piles of trash for too long.

Let them pass us by. Look elsewhere.

I certainly appreciate it when other people look the other way when my children make a scene in public. And the nervous tension in me dissipates when Philip compliments something about my dinner when I know it doesn’t taste very special. I’m obliged to others when they maintain eye-contact when I’ve just discovered deodorant streaks across my shirt. And I admire those in my life who talk about prickly personalities as both fascinating and comical to meet.

When Philip and I were first married, I would complain about the service on our drive home from church. I couldn’t hear the singers because the instruments were too loud. The sermon needed more stories. The church pews were so uncomfortable. No one asked me a single question in fellowship group. And some old lady presumed I was her audience. Nothing went right.

Philip would be silent. Or reply how the Sunday service seemed to him. He’d enjoyed a particular song. He got to give his grandfather a squeeze. He appreciated the pastor’s take on that passage. He was glad to see that they finally removed the lumber that was leaning against the D-building stairwell. And the fruit on the citrus trees were turning orange.

No one needed to tell me that we saw things differently. I thought he was too easily pleased. 

“Didn’t you see anything wrong?” I’d ask.

“I guess I’m just a simple guy,” he’d reply.

I tried not to take offense, but in my mind I was turning his humble comment into an insult. I understood him to mean that I was complicated. Too difficult to please.

And though Philip said none of these things, they were somewhat true.

I had looked so long as our church's flaws that that was all I saw. I supposed that is why some people get divorced. They spend so much time reviewing their spouses mistakes that they see nothing good in them.

But to always be reviewing the good of each other is transformative. It turns the world inside-out. It makes more days delightful. It makes the company of more and more people pleasant. It adds more and more restaurants to our lists of good eats. It turns out happy homes and grateful hearts. It makes the world bigger. To name it in our minds. 

I know this because is has happened to me. I go home from church nowadays thinking, “How lovely! How encouraging! How inspiring! I'm glad I went.” I finish up most days thinking, “How homey! How restive! What fun!” And I leave the company of others thinking, “How kind! How strong! What depths!”

The change came about through reviewing the good. Not some mental exercise I do with my eyes closed while I lay in bed, but by writing down the daily blessings in my journal the Anne Voskamp way. It’s like taking good brain vitamins every day. 

Here are a few I’ve written down lately.

1. Shelves of books at the library where I can check out whatever I want for free
2. Ripe purple figs on our 3 year old fig tree
3. Joanne Clark teaching the children to do the Cha-Cha
4. Money to pay off the credit card bills every month
5. Strength to stay calm during morning temper tantrums
6. A pre-school where the children are taught by Christians
7. Rose saying, “I am a mom because I have long hair and am so beautiful,” or something to that nature
8. The children so excited to get new toothbrushes 
9. Lee praying for his tummy ache to go away
10. A list of baby sitters so Phil and I can go on dates
11. Clean clothes for the children to wear every day
12. Dentists to fix cracked teeth
13. Ryan Javier joining us for dinner and later plunging the toilet
14. A clothesline to hang sheets and mattress pads
15. Kind and friendly neighbors
16. Heavy cream in my tea
17. Friends and relatives who encourage and support my writing
18. A generation of elderly women at Granada who know me and love me and pray for me
19. Bonnie Francis’ support of my eBay sales
20. Sipping chocolate from Trader Joe’s given to me by Grandma Taylor
21. A mom and dad who know how to get down on their hands and knees and play with my children
22. Free lunches with my mom on Tuesdays
23. A background of hard workers in my and Phil’s family
24. A jar of amber-colored honey from my parents’ hive
25. Singing in the choir next to my sister, Jessica
26. Bangs on Rose
27. That the children get to know some of their great-grandparents
28. Air conditioning and heaters each in their proper time
29. People to fix leaks in the ceiling and to kill termites
30. Calculators

These aren’t lists of things I’m thankful for or things I’m happy about. These are things that were blessings. Gifts from God. Things that I may or may not have appreciated at the time, but upon reflection I see them as good.

I could go on and on, but it’s time to stop reading mine and write some yourself.


Gretchen said…
I just love this so much.
Robin Cox said…
Thanks so much for this thoughtful post that was a blessing to me as I sit here in the Apple Farm Inn! YOU are a blessing to me. :-)
Robin Cox said…
David Cox writes on Robin's page, " I don't know but a small handful of people who will do the "Pop in". You have to have watched some Seinfeld to understand the 'Pop in'. But you and Phil do it so well! It takes guts to pop in and we are always blessed when you do. Thanks for letting me 'Pop Off' :-).

Uncle David
Erin Barnes said…
Such great thoughts, Abby! Thanks for sharing.
jgd said…
I am always moved by your writing. You are a blessing to this neighborhood. Hope you don't get too discouraged by the "trash" that people dump in our alleys. I do as well, sometimes, but just call the hauler and they eventually pick it up and it is "neat" again, until next week.

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