Saturday, April 24, 2010

A Good Use of Money

I just got back from a brief business trip. The trip was great, I am excited about what I learned at the conference and I'm excited to try and apply it, but now I want to write about the highlight of the trip, which didn't take place during the conference.

I was walking down Peachstreet in downtown Atlanta and Andre (he introduced himself) started walking with me and asked for a couple bucks. I said, "no" because I don't like giving money to people. I kept walking and Andre stopped to find someone else to make befriend. I thought about it as I walked away. I had six hours to get to the airport that was 20 minutes away. I decided that the next person who asked for money, I would take to lunch.

I kept walking and quickly realized that I was going to reach the subway before I found another panhandler. I wasn't particularly excited to be 6 hours early for a flight. I turned around to look for Andre. I couldn't find him. Disappointed that I wasn't able to follow through on my idea, but grateful that I wouldn't be spending the money, I turned back toward the subway.

Then our eyes met. It certainly wasn't romantic, but that brief eye contact opened the opportunity for her to ask. She wanted money. I don't like giving people money. I asked if she was hungry and she responded in the affirmative. I asked her if I could take her to lunch, and we took off across the street to what looked like a taco joint. It turned out to be more up-scale, but that was OK. We found a booth and the waitress brought us a menu. She had a Dr. Pepper and a Steak Torta (I don't really know what that is, but that is what it says on my receipt). Including a tip, it came to $15.

The best part, and the reason for the 'date', was the conversation. Her name is Rachael. She was originally from Louisiana, but came to Atlanta with her daughter. Her daughter left 2.5 years ago, taking Rachael's ID and leaving her homeless and without her ID she couldn't get a job. She has gone through some helpful agencies and acquired what she needed to get an ID, but both times it rained and ruined her paperwork. In the past she has been a mechanic and truck driver, but at one point she mentioned that panhandling really paid fairly well. The first time I asked, she said that when she returns to work, she would like to be a mechanic. The second time it came up in the conversation, she said she wanted to be an astronaut.

At one point I asked Rachael if she was happy. While she didn't always seem truthful in her responses (I found a lot of inconsistencies that I questioned), the toothless smile on her face and her excited body language confirmed to me that she was genuinely happy. I asked her why.... What makes her happy? Her response was powerful: Peace. Growing up she was sexually molested by her father, although none of her family believed that he would do that. She was married three times and each of those marriages was at least verbally abusive and it sounded like there were at times physically abusive as well. All of her marriages kept her suppressed. Her family was fairly wealthy and she even tracked some distant relatives to the Governor's office in Louisiana. She valued peace more than she valued wealth - maybe I should call it financial stability. I questioned her authenticity when she said this, but she lived what she said. Was I questioning her really thinking that peace was better than wealth? Or was I questioning abuse? Or was I questioning whether her other options were really options or merely her imagination? I don't like that I questioned her.

I asked her what the most important thing she had learned from being homeless was. Her response was respect. She talked about how she learned that it was inappropriate to interrupt and the importance of listening. I was unable to connect the dots and really understand why this was the most significant thing that she had learned, but I thought it was an interesting comment.

She also asked about my family and situation. I told her about leaving college to take a lower paying job that would better align with what I really wanted from life and would ultimately make me happier. She approved. I told her about my four young boys and she told me that I should take them fishing; it would teach them patience.

She ate half her meal and put the rest in a to-go box. I was grateful that she would also have dinner that night. I paid for the meal (I enjoyed a water while we talked and she ate) and we left. She offered to walk me to the subway, but I declined. She thanked me numerous times and gave me a big hug as we parted ways. I checked to make sure my wallet was still in my pocket and I still feel ashamed that I'm that distrustful.

I made it to the airport with five hours to spare. I got to sit and watch people, thousands of people, with enough money to fly where they wanted to, eat what they wanted to and communicate freely with those close to them. With the abundant wealth in the world, why will the highlight of Rachael's day be going to sleep in the park with a full stomach?

Saturday, April 17, 2010


I enjoy watching the squirrels in the back yard chasing each other around, jumping from branch to branch and seeming so comfortable in the trees. It amazes me that they can jump from the outer most branches of one tree to the outer most branches of another tree. It is as if they were designed specifically for playing in trees. They have all the confidence in the world, and I've never seen one fall, although I've often thought they should.

What is my squirrel activity? What do I do so naturally that it comes easy and is almost like play while I'm doing it? What is that activity where I would have no perceivable fear of falling? What challenge can I make look easy while bystanders wonder why I haven't fallen on my face?

Someday I hope to grow up and be a squirrel.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Why I hate recycling

I've been called a "raging tree hugger" and I took it as a compliment. I would certainly consider myself an environmentalist and I feel that recycling is one of the greatest disservices to the environmental movement.

I don't want to be misunderstood. I recycle and I think that recycling is important. I also think that recycling is an easy cop-out for over consumption. I hear it all the time, "Print as many copies of that as you want, you can always recycle it", or "I go through 3 or 4 plastic bottles a day, but I make sure to recycle all of them".

People don't seem to understand that the paper or bottles that they use were produced at least hundreds, if not thousands of miles away. It pumps exhaust into the air to get them to the consumer. When you use more of the stuff, even if you recycle it, that means more exhaust being pumped into the atmosphere to transport stuff.

We also don't seem to realize that plastic and paper don't exactly grow on trees. Well, the paper sort of does grow on trees, but that is beside the point. The processing to produce paper and plastic produces a lot of pollution. When we recycle the paper or plastic it may save us from having to produce more from scratch, but it still requires polluting remanufacturing and processing. It's not like they rinse out the old water bottles and refill them. They melt the plastic (burn lots of fuel and pump lots of exhaust into the atmosphere) and reform the bottles.

Of course I recognize that recycling is better than contributing to landfills. The problem that I have is that recycling makes people feel like they are environmental. It makes people feel like they are doing the right thing, when in reality they are hardly going through the movements.

Do you know the little triangle recycling symbol? Did you know that each arrow that is a corner of the triangle represents something? Did you know that the meaning comes in order of importance? So here it is: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Unfortunately we seem to follow the environmental slogan of "massively over consume and then recycle to help yourself feel better about yourself."

It makes me wonder what it will take to wean people from the disposable water bottle. What if someone were to create a device where water would be delivered to your lips, free of charge at the touch of a button? I would guess that people would use them to spit in.

Sorry about my rant. I seem to have some pent up opinion that needed to be shared. I'm going to go watch "Food, Inc." now. You'll never be able to guess what my next rant will be about.