Every other early morning, weather permitting, I walk to Van Cortlandt Park to jog. Like clockwork, I’m greeted at the entrance with a field of garbage thrown about like wild dogs ravaging the grass surrounding the pool and BBQ area. Small and large piles of plastic containers, aluminum trays, soda cans, left-over food falling out from all sides of broken portable vessels all on pernicious display as if just moments prior, there was some communal decision to spit filth and grim living onto the earth for all to see and share; and for those selected few clad in evergreen or occupational blue overalls to pick up with needle point sticks or some other device provided to them by the recreation and parks department, NYC.
Why such disregard for our community? Why such lack of judgment or restraint? To see the beauty of a park, to worship it as if were our second home, to take great care of it so that we can come to it without the shutting down and out signs of NO NO NO typically imposed upon us by city officials who in some board room shuffle argue whether or not it makes sense to keep cleaning up the park day in and day out.. Why do people go out into public spaces, set aside for just that, a moment of reprieve from the hot steamy concrete or the dripping walls of an old apartment building on a hot summer day—and desecrate? How is it that we do not have the habits and behaviors that communicate respect and care for the environment?
Every other early morning I gasp at the sight of it, the outright shame of it and think that while we are bludgeoning our children with testing in schools, we have forgotten to teach the most important skills of all—community consciousness and how to care for one’s beloved surroundings, what is nature, the dangers of pollution locally and globally.
Then, I ask the question: what is the relationship between the garbage trail and poverty? Is this an act of vandalism, a cry out in the streets for recognition, a shrill, a howl into the air saying, I AM HERE AND IM NOT INVISIBLE I OWN THIS MOMENT IN TIME THIS SPACE IS MINE AND YOU AND YOU AND YOU CANT TELL ME WHAT TO DO
Or is this laziness?
Is this bitter and exhausting vision of wild life trash an organic response to our systematic disregard for some members of our society, for some areas of our city?
People must feel pissed upon if they are going to sit around a bonfire of trash and leave it behind for someone else to clean up.
Character & community building is a big thing in schools although I’ve rarely seen it done fully and successfully, the kind that spills out and around the school into the streets. And even though I‘ve designed curriculum that I believe has touched many teachers and students by starting a constructive dialogue about life skills & behaviors— I still wonder how best to educate our newer generations? How do we teach each other to act responsibly in a shared space? How do we start a conversation about how we really feel about our community and surroundings with humility and dignity? As I think about the delicate and complex nature of character and community building within a context of a greatly divided society, I ask: how do we suspend judgment and help move our citizens in the direction of caring and behaving differently?