I woke up early. The kids were shedding their sleepiness and beginning to slither out of their layers of blankets and pillows and stuffed animals. It was to be another routine morning. Awake. Dress. Eat. Backpacks. Car. School.
Somewhere between getting to the car and school itself, I saw him. Just a glimpse really, but enough to make me wonder. “Why is that guy milling around our neighbors trash cans?”
Somewhat dismissive in my mind – we carried on. Later that day the memory returned to me and I wondered about the new fixture in our neighborhood.
Fast forward a few weeks. My wife and kids are getting on their bikes for the ride to school and I am telling them goodbye out front when I noticed the same gentleman searching through our neighbors trash cans. He is carrying a bulging plastic bag jammed with empty cans and bottles; each worth a nickel.
As he approached our house he looked slightly away (I think he was planning to move past us). My wife kindly greeted him, exchanged the normal pleasantries and told him he could have our empties. She went to the side of our house and got the vivid orange, Tang colored bin where we put all our empty cans and bottles for redemption.
He thanked her and filled his bag to overflowing. Then he began searching for another bag, which my wife provided for him for our stash under the kitchen sink.
Outwardly I was observing all this and shooing my kids along for school (possibly with an aghast look on my face). Inwardly I was a pinball game of emotion and thought:
- “What’s she thinking? Those cans are 5 cents each…that’s like several dollars we paid when we bought them…we need to get that money back.”
- “How can I help this guy? He needs to be saved from this misery…I mean it’s a few dollars!”
- “Is this guy crazy? Is he going to do something weird or somehow ruin my day or do something weird in front of our kids?”
- “Wait. What is happening here, this isn’t New York City – we live just a few miles from the beach!”
- “What if I could help him develop this into something profitable…every house probably has a few dollars in cans/bottles every week…this could be a real business! We could hire poor people and hit every house…”
After a time of reflection and reading God’s Word including Luke 10:25-37…here is what sticks with me:
- Act Justly: Jesus paid the ultimate price to redeem me with his love and I like to quibble over what that really means (much like the scholar in Luke). I can spend all my time philosophizing over the who, what, how…I will do justice, not solely watch others.
- Love Mercy: I am called to show mercy to my neighbors. My neighbor being anyone who I happen across as I journey through life. I will love kindness and seek to express it.
- Walk Humbly: Everyone has a redemption value. So often my pride gets in the way of seeing my neighbor and loving them as such. I will walk humbly.
- With Your God: As I experience my day-to-day life, I must remember that I am filled with the Holy Spirit and God is with me! I must walk with God if any of this is to work.
A few weeks after my experience with “The Can Man,” while on our way to school again, I noticed one of our elderly neighbors putting out her trash. I stopped to give her a hand. After thanking me, she stated, “I don’t like to put them out at night, because these people go digging through them.”
I’m not sure if she thought “these people” were like raccoons and were going to make a mess or if they were going to perform some kind of identity theft or if she was a private person or maybe just selfish. In the end it doesn’t really matter. Whether we’re an elderly woman protecting our trash, a simple Latino man finding nickels in the trash or a Pastor tripping awkwardly over himself to love his neighbors, one thing is certain…
Every one of us has a redemption value. The question is, what will we do with it?
He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
Micah 6:8 ESV