Recycling at Night
By JIM NICHOLS
Perhaps this might make more sense if I write it out; sometimes that seems to help.
I am thinking about how it is possible to be by yourself even though you are surrounded by humanity.
My scientific background combines with my social consciousness to cause me to recycle physical material when possible. My current community has not done consistently well in this regard and that is disappointing to me, but we all need to live and work within the boundaries we have. In the recent past there have been recycling options for newspaper, cardboard, aluminum, other metals, plastic, and glass; currently, the city recyles only aluminum, bi-metal cans, and cardboard.
With Christmas Day just passed, I had gathered up various cardboard from the holiday activities as well as the daily ones and was prepared to take them to the nearest cardboard recycling center. This consists of five large metal bins which, supposedly, are emptied periodically by a contracted company. My experience has been that post-holidays the bins are sometimes already full by the time I arrive, and I might have to wait for a subsequent day. I had quite a cardboard pile, however, so I decided to try.
It was nighttime, but these bins are positioned on the edge of a large Walmart parking lot so there is ample ambient light; one can just park in one of the spots and easily carry one’s load to the bins. The bins themselves are solid except for openings on the side for receiving the material to be recycled. One set of openings faces the parking lot and is therefore lit at night, and there are other openings on the other side of the bin, facing away from Walmart. In the shadows.
I parked the car and popped the trunk and removed the first armful of cardboard. I took it to the lighted side of the bin and was pleased that there was still room to put it in, although the bin was almost full from that side. Knowing that the opposite side of the bin likely had plenty of space, that is where I carried and deposited my second load; it was dark over there.
My third and final load also was to be deposited in the back of the bin. Because my eyes were adjusted to the lights of Walmart and the parking lot, it was difficult to see on the reverse side of the container. As I slid that material in and spun to return to the car, I sensed movement just behind me in the dark. All of this happened so quickly that I cannot really recount the sequence of action or of thought. I am still replaying it in my mind. I was simultaneously startled, frightened, confused, and emotionally moved.
In retrospect, I momentarily thought this was a dog scraping around behind the dumpster. As I turned and tried to focus in the dimness, however, I recognized that a man was lying on the ground next to me. He made a noise by turning over, either purposefully or in his sleep.
A human characteristic is that one can easily think of appropriate words to say or actions to make or do only after the moment has passed. I had some immediate thoughts and now some subsequent ones.
Was I in danger? Should I be afraid? Should I speak to him? Ask if he needed help?
It all happened so fast and, before I knew it, I was back in the car driving away.
Was this the Good Samaritan story in modern time? That is an unnerving thought, but perhaps a correct one. In that case, clearly my response was wrong.
If he had needed help, would he not have asked me when I was right next to him? It was a cool night, but not freezing, although I would not have wanted to be sleeping outside.
Questions and rationalizations keep coming.
If I had yelled for help, there was far too much noise and busyness for anyone to respond.
What had happened to my usual ability to deal with the unexpected?
This was a child of God on the ground. Did I overlook a blessing from the shadows? Was he sleeping on holy ground and I missed it?
What should I have done?
Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current hospice chaplain