Forgiving the Litterers

Although James and I live in the city, there is an old-growth forest just three blocks away from us. We’re grateful that it has remained untouched by all the developments that have sprung up around it over the years. One of our favourite activities is to go for a walk through the forest and stop to practice our daily lesson by the adjoining creek. We go with plastic shopping bags to pick up the litter that abounds.

Whenever I stop to pick up a pop can or drink cup or some other form of garbage someone has thrown down, I almost always accompany my action with a thought: “I don’t understand the kind of mentality that leads to people doing this sort of thing.” Whether it’s expressed to James or kept to myself, the thought is there.

Last evening, as we walked along, stopping to pick up the litter, a different thought came to me: “I don’t have to understand. All I have to do is pick up the garbage.” It dawned on me that my usual comment contained a judgement, even if it was veiled. By saying I didn’t understand how people could do such a thing, how they could be so careless about the environment, I was judging them and saying that I was better than they. All I had to do was peel off that judgement and simple pick up the garbage.

So that’s what I did for the rest of our walk––and it made a big difference. I felt lighter and freer––my mind clear of the litter of judgemental thoughts! Every item I picked up, I did so with absolutely no judgement on the person (or the collective of persons) who litter.

As we continued our walk along the streets leading home, I noticed how often I judge. The way people keep their yards; the Christmas lights still up; someone using a power lawnmower in a small yard, rather than a push mower; the city parks crew not mowing the grass under a tree, but going around instead. Even if it looks as if it’s just a comment, it really is a judgement. I’m basically saying, “You’re doing something wrong, and I sure wouldn’t do that.” It is, of course, making me superior––special.

What an insight that was, and one that I am taking to heart. I can see applications of this in so many areas of my life. I really think that this was a giant stride towards being led from “dreams of judgement to forgiving dreams” (T-30.In.1:5).