Have you ever noticed how happy trash men seem to be?
Each time, I get behind a trash truck I make a point of looking at the men, or women in some cases, hanging off the back.
Without fail, I manage to make eye contact with at least one of them.
Probably because they are just looking around anyway. Maybe because I stare at them until they finally look in my direction. Either way, I smile … and in a split second, I see a smile shining right back at me.
Something about this interaction warms me.
Not because they do what would be considered normal behavior when greeted, but because they do it under such circumstances.
Many days, it’s cold outside. I can tell they are chilly too, bundled up with hats and scarves. Other days, it’s sweltering hot and the humidity is so heavy it fills the air like a coffin, sitting on your chest. Some days I see them out there in the rain, pelting every inch of their body, with no coverage in sight. And each day they are picking up someone else’s trash. Stale bread. Broken toys. Messy cat litter. They spend 8 hours a day touching, lifting, and smelling junk. Yet in the midst of what so many people would consider a horrible job, they always smile.
Think of the people you see on a daily basis that complain and whine about how unhappy they are with their life. How rough it is. How unfair it seems.
Yet a trash man … who isn’t making a ton of money … and literally hangs off of a moving truck by mere bicep power 8 hours a day, manages to always smile back.
I see much irony in this, yet a much grander lesson.
What inspires their smile?
Maybe they smile because they get it … their job gives them insight to what many of us tend to forget – material things in life don’t truly matter. Eventually, it all ends up curbside.
I would assume it gives one great peace not getting caught up in worldly objects.
Maybe they smile because they witness the seasons of life pass by – from baby bottles one year to toddler clothes the next … phases that many of us gloss over because we are just too darn busy and many days, just surviving.
Perhaps they smile because they see first hand, everything is disposable … except your loved ones. Everything. So maybe picking up trash daily, puts them in a mindset to love harder at home. And if your heart is filled with love, it is easy to smile … no matter what you are doing.
Or maybe they smile because as they go neighborhood to neighborhood, they are accustomed to being invisible.
Having people drive by them, not looking – sometimes annoyed by their truck blocking the roadway – and almost always taking for granted the amazing service they offer.
So when someone does smile at them, the action itself is more than a greeting.
It’s one human connecting with another human- and without saying any words, it’s telling them I see you.
You are important. You are not invisible. And therefore they smile back.
So to my earlier question – what inspires their smile?
Maybe I will never know. But I would like to think they smile because they hold the secret … if your life revolves around “things,” your don’t have a life at all. At least not one of true significance. And when we can stop relying on manmade objects to make us happy, we will find our smile too.
May you purge one thing today and fill that void with a long hug to someone you adore or conversation with a stranger.