Friday, August 24, 2007

One man's garbage is a nother man's livelihood

Late writing this morning. I was up at my usual time but had to get to a radio station for an on-air interview regarding the homeless shelter where I work.

Early morning mist. Cool temperatures. Fall is lurking right around the corner.

As I drive across town, traffic is light. I stop at a red light and watch a man crossing through the intersection. He's pushing a grocery cart piled high with discarded bottles and cans. He's a bottle picker. An unpaid worker cleaning up Calgary's streets. Some people call him homeless. Some a bum. Other's a nuisance. I see him as a public servant. Making a living picking up the recyclables we throw away.

Last night, one of my daughters mentioned to some friends that a homeless guy named, Dave, collects the bottles from our house.

"He's not homeless, honey," I corrected. "Used to be. But now, he's getting by. Making a living. Doing odd jobs and supplementing his living with bottle picking."

It's all in our perceptions.

Dave is not clean pressed, freshly shaved, sweet smelling. He's messy. He wears an odd assortment of clothing. Doesn't worry about labels. Doesn't worry about colour matches or the latest trends. Dave is who he is. A guy who's come through tough times making his way through a city where it's tough to be poor. He's reliable. Always comes by every week to pick up the bag of bottles I leave on my back porch. Sometimes, he comes by and asks if I need any help around the yard. Any odd items he's picked up on his journey. I pay him for his work. He does a great job. Fare trade for fair labour.

First time I met Dave he was pushing his cart down my street as I was on my way out my front door. "I have a ton of bottles in my shed," I told him. "You're welcome to them."

Dave's face lit up. He gave me a toothless grin. "For sure," he said.

I took him into the shed. His eyes grew large as he saw the stack of bags filled with a winter's worth of bottles.

"I don't have room in my cart right now for all of them," he replied. "Can I come back and get them?"

"Sure." I told him I'd leave the door unlocked. I was on my way out. He could help himself.

When I came home, the bottles were removed and Dave had tidied up the entire shed.

The next time I saw him walking down the street, I called out. "Hi Dave. Thanks for cleaning up the shed. I've got more bottles on my back porch for you."

He smiled, the weathered skin around his eyes wrinkling in delight. "You remember my name."

"Sure," I replied. "You told it to me last time."

"Cool," he said. "No one ever remembers my name. Thanks."

I wasn't sure what to respond so I smiled and told him to help himself to the bottles on the back porch. "You're welcome to always check whenever you come by," I told him. "I'll leave them there rather than putting them out on the front walk."

Since that time, every couple of weeks, the bottles are picked up, my back porch cleaned off as Dave continues to support himself through doing a job few want to do.

Sure, I have my opinions about his lifestyle. I wish he'd clean up. Get sober. "Make something" of himself. But that's just middle class, conservative me sitting in judgement of a man who is making his own way through life, on what he would say are his terms. He's not looking for handouts. He's looking to use his hands to help out people like me who want to recycle, but are too busy to get to it.

This morning I sat at an intersection and watched a man push his shopping cart along the street. He's helping out. Making a difference. Cleaning up our city.

Thanks to the bottle pickers, otherwise garbage is being recycled the way it's supposed to be.

The question is: Where can you let go of judgement and find understanding of someone else through a different perspective. Where you can see someone or something through a different pair of glasses?

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