Be Careful What You Do — People are Watching!

Yesterday I promised to tell you a story about what I was like before I hugged trees.  Actually, it’s more accurately a story about WHEN the tree-hugging seed was planted in my spirit.

The college “me” would have never recognized the “me” I am today.  Nor would the college me and the current me have liked each other.  In fact, they would have HATED each other!  The early college version of me was a prissy little thing — I cared about my hair, my make-up, the name on the tag inside my shirt, consumption, all the shallow “in” stuff.  UGH.   That changed dramatically throughout my college years, but by the time I was a junior, I still really didn’t know anything about the environment.  I’d always cared deeply for animals, but that care and compassion didn’t translate into any sort of action.  In fact, I wasn’t really even aware of the plight of animals except for a very narrow, limited notion of my local shelter. 

One of my majors in college was English.  When I was a junior, I took a senior level Shakespeare class.  It was known for being a tough class because the professor was known for failing the majority of his students because “they couldn’t write well”.  By the time someone is a senior with an English major, a failing grade because you can’t write just isn’t expected.  Anyway, I ended up sitting next to a young woman whom I can picture perfectly in my mind to this day.  Her name was Mary. 

Mary was a tree hugger.  She looked like she dressed exclusively from camping and outdoor catalogs; she never wore a stitch of make-up; she biked everywhere; she ate twigs and bark and grass-like food during class; and she had a light brown braid three-quarters of the way down her back.  I used to think, “She’d be so pretty if she just did something with herself.”  Now I know she WAS pretty; in fact, she was beautiful.  Talking to Mary was like talking to someone from a foreign country.  Scratch that.  Talking to Mary was like talking to someone from another planet!

Mary’s dad was a college professor on sabbatical, teaching in India and doing missionary work on the side while he was there.  I don’t remember if her mom had a job, but Mary came from a family of 8 or 9 children.  One day in the middle of the winter, she noticed I was in the midst of a really bad asthma attack after walking to class.  She asked if there was anything she could do to help.  I brushed her off (I barely knew her at this point), but after class she persisted in asking if she could help me in any way.  She happened to have a car (her parents’) that day and asked if she could drive me anywhere to spare my lungs a walk in the cold weather.  She ended up driving me to work which saved me a long walk, bus ride and another shorter walk.  I have to admit, although most of me was SO GRATEFUL for her kindness, a tiny part of me was judging this “do gooder” stranger!  I didn’t know her at all and she was giving me a ride to work many miles out of her way?!

Well, Mary and I became something short of friends, but more than acquaintances.  We shared study notes, talked a little before and after class, etc.  One day in the spring she offered to drive me home after class and we decided to get a bite to eat on the way.  She took a route I never had (since I didn’t have a car at school) so she suggested the place to eat — Arby’s.  I didn’t like Arby’s, but could hardly argue since she had the car and knew the area.  Here’s the turning point for me.  When we ordered, she FREAKED OUT when the server put a plastic lid on her cup before she could stop him.  She asked him if he took it off the cup, would he be able to reuse it?  The server looked about as confused as I felt.  He didn’t know WHAT she wanted (the plastic lid off the cup) or WHY she wanted it (we were eating in, why waste the plastic) or WHAT the big deal was (conserving even the smallest part of the environment by stopping the unnecessary use of a plastic drink lid making a cup “to go” that was not “to go”).  She was adamant, relentless, until she beat him down and made him take it back and ensured it went back on the “to be used” pile instead of being thrown away (only he had touched it). 

Mary then spent 10 minutes on her soap box once we got to the table about the environment, the evils of plastic and unnessary waste, stewardship of resources, guarding against consumption, small changes adding up, everyone doing their part and other things I didn’t begin to understand.  

I could hardly wait to get back to my apartment so I could call my mom and talk with her about all of this.  I was attracted to Mary’s convictions, and repelled for the same reason (this chick was nuts!)  But you know what?  I was NEVER able to look at another drink cup lid without feeling guilty, without thinking of Mary, without thinking of her diatribe.  Fast forward 17+ years (gosh, has it been that long?!)  NOW I’M THE NUT!  The first time I FREAKED OUT in a Taco Bell because they put the plastic lid on my husband’s “eat in” drink cup before I could stop them, I saw the same confused look on my husband’s face, the wavering, half smile of someone who’s thinking, “It’s okay, just please put down the spork you’re menacing and no one will get hurt!” 

Mary’s tiny little act of conviction changed my entire life and, for the record, my mom’s who also is a vegan tree-hugger, and my husband, who is learning to hug trees, and the hundreds or thousands of other people I hope I might be influencing every time I follow in her noble footsteps. 

So pay attention to even the little choices you make — you don’t know who’s watching or what kind of exponential impact you may be having across the generations.

Tomorrow is Yom Kippur, so I’ll be absent from the blogging world.  But when I return on Friday, I will announce the winner of the For Young Men Only book giveaway and I’ll tell you about the day earlier this summer when I decided to buy worm poop.  You won’t want to miss this story, I promise!

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1 Comment »

  1. Elaine said

    Just so you know, I love the now you!

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