I’m laying here in bed with my computer on my lap; typical of a Saturday morning. Doing nothing. Relaxing, watching the birds at the feeder just outside my bedroom window. The heat is only tolerable when I’m not moving around, making my own heat, so I’m avoiding moving at all.
Doing nothing: except that I’m actually DOING SOMETHING with my day, something that matters. Today, I’m keeping a tonne of steel out of landfills. Today, I’m preventing the carbon-footprint of that steel from being wasted. Today, people are helping me to stave off the madness that shadows me every single day. Today, people are going to get a gift that they’ll use for decades; not a gift from me, but because of me.
I’m one of those environmentalists going quietly crazy at the way people throw things away–brand new things, things only used once, things broken but only a little bit, still able to be repaired to “good as new” status. I collect cardboard moving boxes from my work’s dumpsters–proud dumpster diver–so that people who are moving, who can’t afford to buy moving boxes, can have huge loads of near-perfect boxes. Often times, I deliver to their homes on my way home from work. Sometimes, when people move on from our building, they leave their things behind. Anything worth saving, I’ll take to a charity-store.
There is no “away.” These things cost fossil fuels to make; their carbon-footprint on the world is already here, but if they have another owner/user along the way, that’s just that much carbon-dioxide that doesn’t have to go into making another one. If they go to the landfill, it’s all wasted effort, wasted money, wasted future resources.
I’m not trying to toot my own horn. That’s actually the exact opposite of what I have to say today. Most of the time, I do these things because they matter. I do these things because they cost me nothing, and yet, the benefit to people on the other end of my actions is a savings of hundreds of dollars. Sometimes, these actions make people feel cared-about, and that’s even better.
Today, the benefit to others is not in the hundreds, but in the thousands of dollars. I’m waiting for a man I don’t know, who contacted me through Freecycle.org (check them out, please), to hitch up his trailer to his truck, and meet me at my workplace, where he’ll help me load up seven heavy-duty, city-street type bicycle parking racks. Then he’ll offload a set of them at Tiny Home Village, and take the rest to distribute around town. This morning, before the heat struck, I helped someone from Troy Gardens load up two more racks to mount on their premises. Each one of these things costs between $300 and $700. They were destined for sale to the metal-scrapper.
These things were bought by a mega-developer for a huge apartment complex with over 300 overpriced apartments. Every apartment must have its own bike parking spot! Only, some people don’t own bikes, or care to; they became clutter, in our way, 80 “spots” for bikes that don’t exist. They need to disappear. That’s all the company cares–they don’t care where they go. I’m the one who found a way to get them to good homes instead of wasting perfectly good, brand-new racks that the bike-loving people of Madison can use.
I do things that help. Sometimes, I listen to someone who needs to be listened to. Sometimes, I fix problems that need to be fixed–broken drawers, scrambled mini-blinds, misaligned door-latches. Sometimes I make sure that abandoned objects that have worth and life left in them reach someone who will use those things well. Sometimes, I give someone walking in the rain a ride. Sometimes, I pick up someone walking alongside the highway, away from a broken-down car, and take them where they need to go. Sometimes, I don’t. Most of the time, like everyone I know, I focus on me-me-me. Part of me-me-me just happens to be making things better in the world. It’s part of my identity–it’s not a “virtue,” it’s just how I’m built. If I don’t help, I lose the life-vest of hope that keeps me afloat in life.
Here is my point: DO SOMETHING. It’s all well and good to talk a good talk on Facebook–I do that all the time. Ninety percent of the time, it isn’t worth anything. Especially where I live, in Madison, Wisconsin, people love to talk the good talk. We’re all great liberals and progressives, we go to political rallies, we donate to the right causes–but when it comes time to actually go to a Black Lives Matter rally, to listen to what black people have to say about their experiences in this city, nope. Only a few “progressives” show up, and aren’t half of them married to a person of color? They’re already in the choir, they already know the narrative. When it comes to actually supporting the homeless, do we show up to meetings and donate time, ideas, money, and energy toward housing-first initiatives? Or do people do nothing more than lament the fact that there are ugly homeless people cluttering up the State Capitol grounds? Did you speak up for the Ash trees in your neighborhood that are being slaughtered by the city foresters at a rate 1000 times the rate of Emerald Ash borer? Or just sit back and scowl and grumble that the shade on your street was suddenly gone?
Stop talking. Stop writing. All that energy you’re pouring into Facebook? Turn it off for a few minutes and use that same amount of energy to figure out what matters to you. What small thing you can do that takes a few minutes of your time, or a little bit of thought, a few miles detour on your way home–that will make a difference.
Then DO SOMETHING.