I like to believe I define my identity through what I say and do. At best, this is partly true since, in moments both big and small, forces I neither understand nor control exert their influences on me. Exhibit A: the trivial matter that confronted me around dawn Monday.
As happens some workday mornings, I had to run to catch a bus. I made it, and the bus turned out to be late. That gave me a few minutes to grimace to myself about Murphy's Law. It also meant while pacing around the bus stop, which abuts a gas station. I started noticing trash on the ground: an empty bottle of Powerade, an open milk pint, empty wrappers from Hostess products.
Enter: my conscience. See, I've trained it this school year to prompt me to pick up and throw away trash, especially on the walk into school from the closest stop where I exit the bus. How did I train it? Through repetition, stooping to pick up detritus rather than passing it by has apparently created a persistent habit.
And that habit was now speaking up. "You can't leave that garbage there," it nagged.
"Why not?" I imagined my ego protesting. "I'm not responsible for every piece of trash I meet."
"Why shouldn't you be?" parried my conscience.
"Not my appointed rounds," I said. "I don't usually use this stop. Besides there's no trash can. What do you expect me to do -- put that crap in my bag to carry until I reach the bin at school?"
And then I saw, through the darkness, across the street on the corner, a large trash-bin shadow, recognizable as a newly installed unit with spaces for recycling, compost, and landfill rubbish.
"The bus is coming any moment," I offered lamely. But it wasn't.
My last rationalizations drifted away with the sigh I expelled. I scooped up the wrappers, the plastic bottle, and the carton (pouring out some liquid and pointlessly rattling a frozen milk chunk that refused to shake out) and scampered across the street -- a good Samaritan jay-walker -- to deposit each item in its respective receptacle. Compulsion may never have felt so good.