Thursday, August 30, 2012

Your Garbageman, Your Confessor

Having worked both as a pastor and as a garbage collector, I think I can safely say that I know more personal secrets of the average trash-customer than I have of the average church-goer.

Our trash betrays us. Last spring the police stopped my colleague, Wes, and commandeered the garbage of a residence under investigation. They put the trash in the trunk of their squad and sped away. We learned later they found evidence that led to arrests. I told Wes they should make a TV series out of us. We heroically clean up the streets and alleys of the city every day, sometimes with the cops.

There is one stop on my regular route where the trash is predictable. Next to the trash can is the small recycling basket. It is always full with three collapsed Miller Lite boxes, and crushed Miller Lite cans. When I flip the lid of the garbage can, I always find another four cases of empties, uncrushed and neatly replaced in their boxes. Those four boxes neatly fit, stacked in the 35 gallon can. On the bottom of the can are several frozen pizza and TV dinner boxes. The gent is older and evidently lives alone. He seems a kind soul when I greet him. And he is medicating--a case of beer each day.

When I pull the lever on the truck that lifts and crushes the trash, invariably one or two items fall back down into the bay, as happened at the "Squirrel Ranch" in a previous blog. These items capture my attention, like the chipmunk that leaped straight at my face in panic to get away. One day an unopened gold envelope slipped down. I noticed that it was from a college where I had applied for a chaplain position just that week, addressed to an alum, no doubt. I further noticed it was a fundraising letter and I casually picked it up to inspect it. On the back was a hand written note: "I have tried it all and but I can't stop the pain." A song lyric? A suicide note thought better of? Written by the addressee, or by someone else? Whatever the case, definitely someone acquainted with pain.

But for sure someone who had thrown the note away, and my job is to get rid of it for him. I offered a prayer for a fellow suffering soul, without knowing the particulars of his pain...