Just before Martin Luther King, Jr.’s calendar day, I was half-listening to the daily presentation/devotional at the school where I sometimes work as a substitute. It’s a Christian school, and the presentation that day was by the lady who runs the on-campus service learning center. She was encouraging the kids to take advantage of the no-school Monday to engage in community service.
At that school, all students have community service built in to their graduation requirement. Like most mandates, this has the effect, for many, of being another box to check. How many hours do you have left to do? What events can you attend that will count towards it, and when will you be done and able to let it go and focus on other things. Which I get. I still like that they have to do it, though, because it might have a chance of leaving some trace of impression on at least some of them, and when it comes to shaping high-schoolers, I have learned that you can’t make them appreciate what you want them to appreciate – you can lead those flighty young horses to water, but that’s it.
Anyway, after reminding them and us that Dr. King said anyone can be great, because anyone can serve, she projected a quote.
“Your vocation in life is where your greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need.” (Frederick Buechner. Although the quote may more accurately be “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”) She said that where your joy meets a need in the world, that is where you must serve.
And I was thinking about this, and had just recently finished reading A Man Called Ove, which if you haven’t read it, first of all, please do, and second of all, you should know it’s about a curmudgeon who does not seem to feel much nor express any joy. Where he serves is where he gets irritated. And I sort of laughed to myself and thought, for some of us, maybe instead we should serve where our greatest pissed-off-ness meets the world’s need.
And then I started to think about what pisses me off.
I like to think I’m a pretty easygoing person, that I love things, and that hate has no place for me. But I hate waste. I just hate it, and I always have. This is in my sociological DNA. I am a product of two sides of the same coin — and while I don’t actually have a memory of my parents telling me “Waste not, want not,” it was encoded into the way they were brought up, because their parents had no choice. So even though, as I live in modern America, I do typically have a choice, I am still an echo of my grandmother who nearly starved to death in Europe during the Second World War.
It isn’t only food waste that I hate, because I hate wastes of time and other things as well – materials, produced things, energy. I hate wasted effort, even.
The only other thing I hate is carelessness that leads to wanton destruction. So, people who text and drive and thereby endanger everyone else on the road at that moment? That makes me angry. People who can’t be bothered to find a trash can (to say nothing of any attempts that could be made to like, I don’t know, reduce trash in the first place) and who just throw their shit out the car window? Yeah, that makes me strangely apoplectic, which can be absurd as there is usually no one around by the time I’m walking across that parking lot and there is just trash strewn about. It also pisses me off when our landlord puts yard waste (like branches or whatever) into our trash can — because fuck, those are just sticks! Sticks don’t need to take up space and emit gases in a landfill as they decompose! They need to just decompose and enrich the fucking soil or something!
Okay. So I guess there are actually a lot of things that piss me off.
The problem with motion motivated by your greatest anger rather than your joy can be how overwhelming the negative can feel. I’m never gonna be able to stop assholes from throwing trash out of their cars, even IF I were to run up on one of them and give them what-for. Even if I take the branches out of my own trash can, I can’t stop the landlord and anyone else on the block from putting sticks in their own trash cans.
My pissed-off hits the pavement in a place where I kinda feel powerless.
But, that doesn’t mean things aren’t happening. I’m kind of heartened when I see other people and other groups moving on the same stuff that bothers me. I did a few mornings with the Nashville Food Project, gleaning from Whole Foods (which was actually really quick, just cruising through and picking up the stockpiles of donations they had set aside for us), sorting and then helping a bit with food prep. It’s encouraging to see that there are in fact some systems in place to scoop up the unsold food and repurpose it.
Over winter break, I was part of a group discussion about gleaning ugly vegetables for processing (chopping, freezing, etc.) to sell to local restaurants, so that the restaurants can boast “local produce,” and the ugly stuff can be consumed instead of just picked over because it isn’t perfect looking. (Because heck, if you’re in a grocery store and you have a massive bin of apples, you’re going to pick the nice ones. Why shouldn’t you? Even I do this. I could very easily nom on the misshapen one, or cut off that tiny tiny bruise or bad spot, but why should I?) But I’m starting to see ads on social media for a home-food-ingredient-delivery service that does just this out of Cali.
While I’m disappointed that it seems that boat is sailing without me, I am also glad to see it’s sailing.
I also just signed up for Compost Nashville, because through a series of misadventures in composting by myself, I have finally given and and admitted I should leave it to the pros. But I’m glad there are pros. And I feel like… I could be one, too, I would just have to narrow my focus and choose it.