One late afternoon, Glen and I were walking on a busy street in a Brooklyn neighborhood that we hadn’t been to more than once or twice. At that hour, there are always lots of people out and about – school kids, parents and strollers, workers coming home, tourists ;-), etc. . As a group of 6 or 7 moms with elementary-aged kids came toward us on the sidewalk, one of the young girls tossed some candy trash toward a trash can and kept walking. She looked straight at me as she did it and I could tell that she knew that what she did was wrong and yet…
Now, I will tell you that as a teacher (and a mom) there have been MANY times when I’ve struggled to keep my mouth shut when I saw a child doing something that wouldn’t fly at school or home. (My kids used to give me the evil eye when they could tell I was struggling to MYOB.) But sometimes, I just can’t stop myself. So as she kept walking, I said something like “Uh-oh, you missed!” The moms sort of made motions to get her to go and correct her mistake so she came back, picked it up and gently put it on top of the trash can. I said something like, “That’s just going to end back up on the ground when the wind blows”. I could see that she really did want to do the right thing and then I realized the real problem was not that she didn’t care or was lazy or careless. She didn’t want to lift the trash can lid to drop it inside. She didn’t want to touch it.
COVID has changed many things in society, some good, some not-so-good. This little girl was clearly afraid of the germs she might contact by touching the trash can lid. I got it. I understood. So I looked at the moms to make sure they weren’t freaked out by this crazy gray-haired lady, called the young girl over to the can and said, “I get it! You don’t want to touch the lid! This is how I do it!” I picked up the trash, used it to lift the lid, and then quickly tossed the trash inside before the lid came crashing back down. The girl and the group of moms and kids with her, all watched me finesse the trash into the can. You would have thought that fireworks had gone off with their “oohs and ahhs” when the trash safely landed inside the can and I hadn’t come in contact with the “infected” lid.
The little girl looked seriously happy with my performance. The moms thanked me and everyone moved on their paths with the little girl skipping along her way. Sometimes, you just have to stop and see the issue through someone else’s eyes. There are very few problems that can’t be solved with a little compassion and understanding.