May 15, 2015, Tilaran, a small Tico town in Costa Rica
I am standing in line at one of the four larger supermarkets. I am hypnotized by the carts in front of me: 2 liter bottles of soda, huge bags of chips, packages of frozen food, sugary cookies and chemically processed snacks, family sized containers of ice cream, itty bitty juice boxes, cans of beans, vegetables and meat… jars, plastic, paper, aluminum, styrofoam…
Where is the fruit, the vegetables, the real food?
The woman in front of me has only two items: a package of chewing gum and 3 tomatoes. The cashier takes the chewing gum and places it in a plastic bag, the tomatoes sadly destined for another as I think about this simple act of ignorance, laziness and downright violence. I think about all the times while visiting my family in New York I have witnessed the same exact scene. The same exact ‘non-caring’ act towards the planet, our children and their children; populations of people and animals barely surviving, forced to ‘live’ with our waste and pollution and utter stupidity….
I think about a boy named Jim.
It was the latter half of the 1950’s. Jim was a small boy of about the age of 8 or 9. One evening his parents invited many people over for a dinner party at their small home in the Chicago suburbs: aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, neighbors, close friends, a curious, but harmless stranger peeking in and out here and there. He remembers many times like these. His parents loved to entertain and his house was always filled with people. They didn’t have much, but there was always an open door, enough food and drink for everyone and a guaranteed good time. That evening, the atmosphere was festive as usual with lots of homemade food, kidding around, singing and dancing. His uncle’s late entrance only added to the excitement as he enthusiastically unloaded one case after another…
He remembers the exact moment when he first saw it: the shiny aluminum cylinder, perfectly chilled, tiny drops of dew slowly dripping down all sides as it was lifted from the ice filled metal cooler and placed into two small and impatient hands. Until then, he had only heard about it from a schoolmate. A man passing through town from a large city had told his friend about the new invention. Now, everyone was talking about it. His uncle had brought over cases of it for the special get-together…
It was his very first can of Coca Cola.
He remembers how the room filled with one pop sound after another as each can was opened and each tab was pulled off; for many like himself, it was their very first time. He remembers the comments going ‘round and how cold it felt against his cheek on that sticky, summer evening. Until then, soda pop had always been sold in a glass bottle – a bottle that once empty was regularly returned to the vender for reuse again and again and again.
Jim slowly sipped the cold, gassy beverage as he watched the others gulp down one can after another disposing them, once emptied, into a large, plastic bag doomed for the landfill. As this dark, bubbly substance travelled across his tongue and tingled his throat like so many times in the past, this 8 or 9 year old boy – seemingly the same as all the other kids in the room, raised and grown no differently than the others – this 8 or 9 year old boy, as he watched the garbage bag rapidly grow bigger and bigger, thought to himself:
“This is the end. How can someone think of inventing something that is meant to be used only one time and then thrown away? This is the end. It must be because ‘this’ can’t possibly go on forever.”.
Jim is now a youthful, 66 year old. He is a good friend of ours who lives in Costa Rica with his 2 dogs on a small piece of land covered with cows and bamboo and blue butterflies in a home that he built with his own two hands. Last night he came to eat dinner with us at our place. He told us this story and with tears in his eyes added:
“People just don’t think. We consume. We thank. We believe in ‘boosting’ the economy… And those who do think, think recycling is going to save the world. Recycling isn’t going to save us or the planet. Technology and science either. Not being ignorant or lazy may. One use products should be illegal. Shouldn’t they?! …all one use products – plastic plates and utensils, straws, paper cups- especially those flimsy, triangle shaped ones used at water dispensers… that was an intelligent invention. They are so thin that you can hardly even use it twice if you want to take a second cup!-… paper napkins, aluminum cans, styrofoam packaging, candy wrappers, individual packages of salt, sugar, ketchup and mayonnaise, Happy meals! –nowadays everything is disposable…. Then again, there are so many things in this disposable world of progress, this uncivilized modernity, this free democracy… a freedom that encourages us to destroy ourselves along with the planet… that should be”.
Jim is not an environmentalist. He isn’t an activist. He is not an intellect. He is not a Buddhist or a yogi. He isn’t a vegetarian. He is just a ‘simple’ man and an honest man living a simple life; a man who was once a small boy with not such small or simple questions.
It is finally my turn to pay. The cashier naturally grabs a bag for my 2 bananas, as I remind her, “No bolsa, por favor.” I take my bananas and place them in my reusable cloth bag. The cashier gives me her usual, bewildered look. She doesn’t know why I don’t like the plastic. For her, it is merely a part of progress and the ‘American Dream’ along with more store aisles and more cereal brands to choose from. She is totally unaware that the days of double bagging are already long gone, that plastic is ‘out’ and reusable is ‘in’…. or at least should be…. Like many of us, she still doesn’t know that it ‘can’t possibly go on forever’ and, that it is either the end of all this or the end of all of us…. us and our disposable world.
Happy World Environment Day!!!
Sending peace and kisses to everyone-
(especially to my good friend Jim)
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