the keeping up of appearances

Today I arrived at the bus stop to find newspaper all over the ground. My initial thought was “that’s unfortunate.” There are a few little newspaper machines around the bus stop, several of which are free local rags, so this isn’t a completely unusual event. It was colder last night, so I imagine someone used them as blankets and slept on the benches under the shelter. Alpharetta doesn’t have much in the way of homeless, but any sort of shelter and free ‘blankets’ will get found by those who need them on a cold night.

I noticed some of the edges of the papers were charred, so I looked around to see where someone had lit a paper on fire, and found a small, black pile right where the bus stops to load passengers.

I road around on my bike for a little bit, like I always do, slowly circling the area. 7 or 8 other people stood under or around the shelter, waiting for the bus like they do every morning. But I kept thinking about the paper. Not really sure why, perhaps cause it was all over the place, but it being there just sorta annoyed me.

I thought about picking it up, but a few thoughts kept running through my head, giving me pause.
1) If I pick this stuff up, will I look like I think I’m better than everyone here?
2) Are other people not picking it up cause they don’t want to look smug?
3) Is it kinda tragic that many people might want to pick it up, but don’t because they don’t want to look preachy?

That was one line of thought. The other line was more judgmental, thinking that if I had passed this group of people and saw all the paper lying around, I’d think to myself, “Gee folks, not one of you can take 2 minutes and pick up a little trash?” I think like that a lot. It’s one of my least favorites traits.

But how could I think that if I was not willing to pick it up myself?

But then the biggest point: I ride my bike to work every day. If I start picking up newspaper off the ground, am I gonna look like some super tree-hugging hippie? I certainly don’t want that. Plenty of people associate bike riding with dedication to the environment. I do it cause I’m cheap, gas is expensive, sitting in a car for an hour sucks, and riding a bike is fun. Sure, I believe in stewardship, but I’m not gonna stop eating meat and switch to single-ply toilet paper any time soon.

Finally I just thought, “The only way I’m gonna shut my brain up is if I pick this crap up.” So I put my bike against one of the newspaper machines and started picking up paper. I felt like a kid that got pantsed in the lunchroom. I was sure everyone was watching me, and they all knew what my favorite super hero underwear was now. I tried to just get paper around me, like I’m not putting a ton of effort into it. You know, “I’m just doing this ’cause whatever, it’s not like I need to pick up paper.” The same way the cool, mysterious guy is about dating girls.

But the paper was dispersed perfectly to lead me along the entire length of the bus waiting area, picking up every sheet of newspaper. By the end I had a heaping hand full, and I had walked past every person standing there. As I stood up to head for the trash can, an older woman looked at me and said, “That’s so good of you.” My first thought was, “If it’s so good, why didn’t you do it yourself?” Again, quick, judgmental thoughts, not my favorite. I just smiled and shrugged. I was too nervous about how I was being perceived to have anything real to say. My options were “I’m not a crazy tree hugger!” or “I’m just anal, that’s all.” or maybe “If it’s so good, why didn’t you do it yourself?” As you can see, none were good answers, so I’m glad I had enough self control to not say anything. Looking around I saw that the trash can was all the way back by my bike, so I had to walk the gauntlet again, every set of eyes judging my choice of Spider-Man over Superman.

Now, I didn’t post about this to brag or anything. It was a minute and a half of effort, nothing worth even a “that’s so good of you.” I just find it weird that I often find myself over-thinking these kinds of situations. I literally become embarrassed when I want to do something that I think is good. Don’t get me started on offering a woman your seat on the train. You’d think it’s a simple “of course.” Well, trust me, it’s somehow become and incredibly complicated dance that often leaves me feeling like I’ve insulted the woman I was trying to be nice to.

Or I’m just completely insane. That’s always an option too.