Yesterday’s unexpectedly blue skies inspired me to greet 2017 with an upbeat mantra: “New day. New year. New attitude.”
Today’s encounter with a tall stranger challenged me to back my words with action.
I was wheeling our recycling bin to the curb early this morning when I came upon a tall guy, layered up and wearing a knit stocking cap, running his flashlight over the contents of what my neighbors had already put out the night before.
“You looking for cans and bottles?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he nodded.
“I’ve got some for you.”
I’d planned to redeem them myself this week, being someone who doesn’t mind spending time feeding them into the bins if it’ll help knock a few dollars off the grocery bill. But who needed the empties more? Me or him?
I hauled a couple of bags from the garage and set them next to his
“You doing any kind of work?” I asked.
“I deliver The Oregonian.” A slight pause. “And The New York Times.”
Well, how about that? I thought to myself. I know these folks don’t make a lot of money, whether paid a commission or an hourly wage. It made sense that he’d be on the streets at 5 a.m., trying to supplement his income.
I peered into his car, a weathered, four-door sedan, as he was placing more empties in the trunk and saw he had filled the entire back seat and front passenger area, from floor to ceiling, with as many bags and boxes as he could cram in.
I didn’t see any newspapers. But it dawned on me that The Oregonian is home-delivered just four days a week these days, and Monday is an off day. It made sense that he didn’t have any papers.
I grabbed a couple more 12-pack boxes and gave them to him.
“You got any work for me, mister?”
“No, I’m afraid I don’t,” I answered. “Where we live now, we don’t have to worry about yard work.”
“Well, thanks anyway.”
“You bet. Good luck to you and have a good year.”
With the dawn of a new year and new administration, several friends and family members have vowed to do what they can to preserve the progressive policies of the Obama years. As I think about my own values and personal responsibilities, I know I will have to find ways to contribute that feel comfortable to me.
As a lifelong journalist, I am accustomed to refraining from overt political involvement. Though no longer an employee of The Oregonian, I’m still likely to tread cautiously into area of direct action. Somehow, it feels more authentic to me to act on my values one person at a time.
And there’s plenty of opportunity.
The consequences of income inequality are easy to see, in my neighborhood and in other parts of Portland. Virtually anywhere you go in this city, you’ll see tents and tarps housing the homeless, and people hustling outside coffee shops, grocery stores and Goodwill.
Undoubtedly, every person has a story. I don’t know what circumstances put this particular stranger on my street this morning. What I do know is that it felt much better to engage with him than to just set the empties out at the curb for anyone’s taking. What I also know is that I’m more inclined to help those who help themselves.
In lieu of a short list of resolutions, and with today’s encounter in mind, I will seek to hold myself accountable to this new mantra.
“New day. New year. New attitude.”
Bonus video from one of my favorite bands: