Recently, I have been getting better at giving things away earlier in the day so that I don’t have to panic around dinnertime or later still. Today, even after dinner, I hadn’t figured out my gift for the day. I wasn’t too worried, though, because I thought I could do some more guerilla giving when I went out on my evening walk. But after dinner, I had to help my son Theo with his math homework, and I had promised to watch the last episode of the season of his favorite tv show, The Flash. So by the time I was free to go for a walk it was dark outside – not ideal for walking alone, let alone leaving gifts on benches. It was my husband David’s turn to read with Theo, so I kissed Theo goodnight and I decided to step out into the darkness of the evening to find some inspiration.
It was a mild night and everything seemed very still and quiet. I stood outside our front door gazing hopefully down the length of our street. No neighbors’ cars were pulling into their driveways. There weren’t even any cats trotting across the road. Nothing moved. Lining the street were parked cars and rows of trashcans standing against the curbs waiting for pick up tomorrow morning. Then a figure appeared at the end of the road, a man holding a plastic bag full of something. He approached the first set of trashcans, opened the lid and rummaged for a minute or two, pulling out something and putting it in his bag. He replaced the lid and walked up the street in my direction stopping at every blue bin and rummaging in it looking for recyclables – bottles or cans that can be redeemed for 5 cents apiece. I have long had mixed feelings about the people who go through our blue bins and remove recyclables. Technically it’s against the law, as it deprives the City of revenue from recycling – those 5 cents can add up. However, I also know from personal experience how unpleasant it is to collect bottles and cans, take them to the recycling center and sort them into the correct bins, only to be paid $10.72 for two hours of effort. If people need the money that badly, how can I object to this practice?
This evening, I noticed the man on our street seemed to be having hard time seeing what he was doing and I worried about him cutting himself on any broken glass that might be buried in the trashcans. Suddenly I knew what I needed to give. I quietly opened the front door, tiptoed into the kitchen and found an extra flashlight. I checked that the batteries worked and then headed outside with it. As I descended the steps, I suddenly felt anxious about approaching a strange man in the dark and offering him a flashlight. But as I got closer, I could see he had a flashlight in his hand that was barely working. I called out, “Excuse me. Would you like a flashlight?” He turned too look at me, surprised at first. I could see he was actually quite a young man, cleanly shaved and bright eyed. As soon as he realized I was offering him something, he smiled. I handed him the flashlight and he said thank you, explaining that his was out of batteries. Then he offered me his in exchange. I said I was ok, smiled back to him and told him to take care. As I climbed the steps back up to our front door and the comfort of our home, I realized that the young man had only collected a small amount of recyclables in his bag. He had a long night of work ahead of him.