Plastic Bag

“Do you ever feel like a plastic bag,
Drifting through the wind, wanting to start again?” Firework by Katy Perry

I was finishing up a long run, running up Kessler to the World War I Memorial, when I saw a plastic bag rolling down the hill. Kessler is the longest, steepest sustained “ascent” of the KC marathon. The bag was in the gutter, filled and pushed by the wind.

In my hands, I held three aluminum cans that I had picked up and was going to recycle. And then I thought of the lyrics to Firework. (Do you ever feel like a plastic bag… Wanting to start again?) Would someone recycle this bag? Would it wind up in a landfill? Or would it wind up in the ocean, in the belly of a dolphin, mistaken for a jellyfish? I passed it by; we continued our journeys separately. But I felt a tenuous kinship with that bag. Many times I feel empty and want to start again.

James E. Shapiro in Tales from the Breakdown lane writes about the trash he finds on the road. Sunglasses. Shoes. Stuffed animals. Just about everything. Sometimes he will pick up something and use it or give it to someone else. And he hates dropping things so much that he will carry trash for miles if there is nowhere to dispose of it. I’m a little like him. Then he writes about rocks. And how rocks belong in the place they are. Or (at least) they have the same right to be where they are as he has to be in the breakdown lane, making his way across the country, doing about 50 miles a day at 10:00 / mile.

Why had I chosen to pick up the cans? Why not a Styrofoam cup (they take just about FOREVER to decompose)? Why not this plastic bag? Recycling an aluminum can conserves enough energy to run a television for 3 hours. It will decompose in a landfill in 50 years. A plastic bag will take 1,000 years to decompose, while a Styrofoam cup will take 7.5 billion years. That Styrofoam cup has a lot of staying power. Without the aid of embalming fluid, it will outlast me. And I’m planning to be cremated. Ashes to ashes for me. Thank you.

I was devolving to the “it just isn’t worth it perspective” when I thought of the Star Thrower story, originally in an essay by Loren Eiseley. (If you don’t know it, you should google it and read it. There are many versions.) With apologies to Ms. Eiseley, allow me to shorten the story.

The tide was going out. And there was a person throwing live star fish back into the ocean. Someone came up and said, “What are you doing? There are dying starfish for miles! You’ll never save them all. What you are doing just doesn’t matter!” And the star thrower picked up a starfish, tossed it back into the Living Water of the ocean and said, “It mattered to that one.”

And as I tossed my aluminum cans in the recycling bin I thought, “It mattered to that one.”

Now I have begun picking up Styrofoam cups and plastic bags. They are special to me.

I am the aluminum can thrower.

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