Day 9, 30 Days

Life Lessons from an Amateur Trash Collector


For the past 9 days I’ve snapped and posted a photograph of each day’s sunrise over the Atlantic.   What my photos of the beach never show is the amount of trash that washes up onto the shore.  The glare of the first burst of rays casts a shadow that hides the scene’s ugly bits and pieces.  Tangled within seaweed are bottle caps, plastic ware, lighters, balloons ripped to shreds, clothes hangers, and, water bottles.  The water is often still inside.  It’s apparent that the ocean does not discriminate when giving up its waste, no matter how pristine the beach.

I’ve noticed one man who appears on the same piece of coast, and at the same time each day.  Carrying a plastic bag he makes his way down the shoreline, a few feet at a time, repeatedly stooping over to pick up what others have carelessly discarded. Though groomed and clean shaven, he’s always shirtless, making it obvious that he’s not a uniformed member of the city’s maintenance staff.  There is no paycheck for his efforts.

After the fifth straight day of watching his dogged ritual of clean up after strangers, I wandered over to let him know that I’d noticed and appreciated his work.  He only briefly glanced up at me.  “Yep.”  He chuckled. Then he shrugged shyly, and with more than a little resignation, added. “Somebody’s got to do it.”

Somebody’s got to.

It took me a while to connect the dots, but at some point I realized that he’d offered me a very unexpected lesson on the very two ideas I’d been carrying on about for months.  Because I thought that Passion and Purpose were supposed to point to larger than life ideas, or at least make for a cause worthy of telling your friends, I was blinded to recognizing a perfect example when I saw it.

I should thank this “amateur” collector.  He’s completely reset my idea of what living those two ideas should look like.


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