The Day The Garbage Was Filled With Treasure
Yesterday, while I was only half way through mowing the lawn, the right front wheel fell off. It didn’t come undone. A bolt didn’t come loose. The entire wheel mechanism broke off along with a piece of metal housing it was attached to. I had to mow the rest of the lawn with just the three remaining wheels, lifting up on the right side while pushing the mower forward with my left hand, all the while cursing the mosquitoes that I couldn’t swat off my neck because I no longer had a free hand.
The mower is old. I bought it two years after I got married, to mow a small patch of city-lot grass at our first house in Providence (before I dug out the front lawn and turned it into a driveway and dug out the back lawn and turned it into a patio and a garden). So the mower is older than any of my children. It still works great, aside from the broken wheel.
Right now the wheel is soaking in WD-40 and next to it are two hefty Stillson wrenches (people call them monkey wrenches, I’m not sure why) the two largest wrenches I own. My plan is to somehow get the bolt detached from the torn off rusted metal plate the wheel is still mounted to and then figure out a way to mount the wheel back onto the mower.
I only find this significant enough to send to you in the middle of your busy day because I observed the garbage man (I know it’s definitely a man, not a woman, so. . .yeah, it’s not sexist) going through our trash this morning, reaping the benefits of Mom’s recent pared down, stream-lined reorganization effort. I would not have even noticed except that I found it unusual that the garbage truck was still parked at our house 20 minutes after it had arrived. I couldn’t see much from the window, but I knew that each bag was being searched because every few minutes the garbage man walked into my line of vision when he stepped up to put something else into the cab of his truck.
Last week Mom and Rachel, but mostly Mom, went through a major organization of a few key spaces in the house. It was a lot of work (not for me, but it took Mom all day, working hard the whole time), and it even involved the consultation of Jocelyn Welch McCarthy, a specialist in organization (don’t laugh, she had some really great ideas), but it came out great and left us with a more pared down, steam-lined, simplified existence (along with the need to call out, “Where’s the ___ ?” several times a day).
The trash rifling and lawn mower salvaging got me thinking. I’ve had that lawn mower for 28 years and Mom and I have been married nearly thirty years. The garbage man found treasure in the trash that Mom generated from the “organizing” (and I don’t blame him because, quite frankly, a lot of it would not have looked out of place on a store shelf if it hadn’t already been put in a trash bag). He salvaged the trash but he would not have saved the lawn mower that I was fixing if I had put that out to be taken, which I had no intention of doing. By the garbage man’s standard then, I was saving trash while Mom was discarding highly valued items.
No relationships are perfect, but you have to marvel at one that can create the kind of space that allows two such disparate approaches to garbage to exist side-by-side for thirty years. It speaks to a level of acceptance and compromise, finding a way to make enough room for the other view. It speaks to a type of team building that values different skill sets instead of fighting against them, and works indefatigably to incorporate the other’s approach.
Relationships are often defined by their common ground, and we have plenty of that, but it’s also important to measure a relationship by how well it functions when there are wide gulfs, contrasting approaches, differing views. Who would have known, that after thirty years of marriage, our garbage would make a statement about the quality of our relationship and how it has survived and thrived for thirty years.