My Turn: Value our limited resources

Posted: Tuesday, May 06, 2003

We've lived in student housing for over a year now; seen lots of students come and go. This week, as students head out, the great Dumpsters return for the end-of-the-semester ritual, and are quickly filled up with unwanted clothes, furniture and other such garbage. Our family anticipates the coming of the Dumpsters, like the black bear anticipates the melting of the spring ice.

Today my children and I were out and spied the overflowing Dumpster, coinciding once more with the arrival of the skunk cabbage along the university trail. My daughter is a garbage-raider (in-training), as 6-year olds tend to be naturally, until they are set straight by more knowledgeable peers and adults. She studies the contents in the Dumpster and asks, "Who would throw away clothes that do not even have holes in them yet?" Not I! It's them! I think to myself, proud that my child would ask that question.

We came upon many treasures that we would soon haul back to our lair. I noticed a group of departing students not far away, glancing back at us now and again, as they filled their vehicle with treasures, which would never make it to the great, temporary Dumpster.

My children and I left, arms overflowing with new old stuff, still talking about how it all came to be that treasures were simply left for us. We talked about how ravens treasure shiny things they find in the Dumpsters. We talked about the "real" value of everything in that Dumpster and what would happen to it now. I guessed that in Ecuador, where my daughter was conceived, the Dumpster would provide for countless families a lifestyle of which they do not even dream. My daughter, having traveled frequently to Ecuador, was in agreement. We talked about the departing students, and how they would replace their trash with treasures one day soon.

I told my daughter it is a fact of life that departing students do not/can not take all of their "garbage" with them. The university addresses the problem by providing a place for the unwanted stuff. Then I went back to my daughter's original question about who would throw away such wonderful things. The answer really was "us" and not just "them." The Dumpsters do not just appear, they are brought in by the university. I view it as a way to get something for nothing, and never have complained.

As we entered our place, I looked at my daughter, arms full of treasure, and thought about our upcoming departure from the university. I decided that as the primary educator of my children, I need to take a stand. I will not give in to the shiny, rectangular, bottomless pit that tempts the departing (and ravens) with its hidden message: You do not have time to take your unwanted items to a place where others might want them. Give to me your garbage, and it will no longer be a problem for you.

I have a responsibility to my children to teach them to value the limited resources of this world, and not be fooled by "our" apparent endless supply of stuff. I must also teach them to recognize the messages hidden carelessly in large, accessible Dumpsters. It is a good thing that the university is only a secondary educator, and that primary educators are still reminded by 6-year olds to think before they toss into the nether.

Sheila Keller lives in Juneau.

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