Not Just Another Walk in the Park
I’ve got a habit.
It’s a habit that’s opened my eyes to a side of my town that many people aren’t even aware of. It’s a side of our town that some people look right through – maybe because they don’t want to see it or maybe because they simply don’t know what they are looking at. It’s a side of our town that shows disparity, inequality and absurdity.
But it’s there right out in the open – in the park down the street from my neighborhood. It’s a park where I’ve spent hours and hours of my time.
My husband calls my behavior obsessive. I call it maintaining a routine. But, whatever you call it, I am compelled to take our dog Rodney for a walk in the park at least once, and sometimes twice, a day depending on the weather and how busy my schedule is.
No matter what, we always go in the morning. Always.
On weekdays this means my alarm goes off at 5:00 and we’re in the park by 5:30. On weekends, we’re generally there a bit later.
But no matter the time, those visits to the park provide a glimpse into what’s going on in my town.
This time of year, it’s still dark when I get to the park. But that doesn’t bother me. I’m walking a big German Shepherd, and anyone would be crazy to mess with him. He’s a nice dog, but he isn’t exactly a fan anything, human or otherwise, that he sees moving in the dark.
Besides, just like I have a routine, so do others.
There’s the group of joggers that come running through every other day. There’s the two middle-aged women whose exercise routine is a little less strenuous and who simply walk through the park gossiping. There are always the other dog walkers, although I don’t think they are quite as committed to the whole dog walking thing as I am because they are only there sporadically.
And on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, there’s the group of bankers, accountants, lawyers and others being barked at by an ex-Marine putting them through “boot camp.” I’m always amused by the fact that these professionals pay to have someone tell them to run the bleachers and jump rope at the crack of dawn. But, then, I guess they probably wouldn’t get out of bed for the torture if they weren’t paying for it.
And as the sun begins to rise, I also see what other people have left behind. Clean-up crews haven’t arrived yet, so there’s always quite a bit left from the previous days’ activities and events. There are sweatshirts and shoes; I don’t understand how anyone can leave the park without shoes, but it happens all the time. There are balls and toys; I imagine some of those the parents were happy to leave some of those toys behind. And worst of all, there is litter – lots and lots of litter. Bottles, cans, cups, fast food wrappers, tin foil and popped balloons often lie on picnic tables and on the ground, usually near one of the dozens of trash cans that dot the park.
And, also as the sun rises, I see a man walking through the park. I never know where he’s spent the night, but I do know it’s not in the comfort of a warm home and bed. He’s always carrying his life on his back and something to read in his hand.
Just like many of us, he has his own morning routine. He settles at his favorite table at the shelter by the creek. He takes a water bottle from his backpack and lays his reading materials out before him. He then heads to the restroom, where I assume he grooms as best he can. And then he goes back to his table and reads. He is usually there for a few hours but is always gone by mid-morning. I don’t know where he goes, although at times I have seen him walking the streets of my town during the day.
I’ve come to think of this man as an acquaintance, even though I don’t know his name or his story. But, like any other acquaintance, we always greet each other. I’ve also come to respect this man – not because he is obviously surviving any way he can, but because he’s earned my respect.
Unlike many other patrons of the park, he alway leaves his space cleaner than when he got there. If that means throwing away his trash as well as the trash of others, he does. I’ve seen him do it many, many times.
It might seem like a simple thing, but it’s not simple at all to me. In fact, it seems very complicated.
Because people who can afford to leave behind shoes and sweatshirts have more than this man… a lot more. At the same time, many people who have sufficient material possessions are quick to judge and label those who don’t as lazy. Yet, to me, someone who throws away trash is NOT lazy, and someone who leaves it behind is.
That’s a puzzle I’ll have to ponder on yet another walk through the park.