By Renee Pavlovich, Volunteer Programs Intern
In every good story, there is a grabber, an intrigue; something that causes everybody to become excited about what will happen next. It introduces the hero(s) as they will exist in their impending journey of triumph.
Throughout my Volunteer Programs Internship with Ryan Kingston, I have heard his grabber for the Live Blue Service Corps time and time again: “during a marine debris cleanup on the Neponset River, the volunteers and I found an entire safe!”
So ingrained into my psyche, I admit I had inevitably been grabbed by the possibility. The morning of my first cleanup on the Neponset River, I found myself chatting with Ryan in amiable anticipation of everything I might find in the marsh – of all the giant, unique, and stinky pieces of treasure that I could pull from the earth and name as my trophy at the end of the day. I’ll readily admit, I thought it would all look something like this:
On that morning, I was comprised of 10% sunscreen and 90% zeal. I started on the trailhead, on the lookout for safes.
I walked and walked until I had reached the edge of the collection area… But my trash bag was empty. Could it be there was no debris to clean up?
It actually ended up looking something like this:
Of course there was still plenty to clean up. Here, too, as with life, its was the little things that mattered the most: snack packaging, Dunkin’ Donuts straws, the pilled Styrofoam remnants of a disposable cooler. An endless roadside of cigarette butts. 27 trash bags later and the proof was in the pudding.
If picking up debris was as easy and exciting as stumbling across a safe, a road sign, or an XL storage bin lying along the beach and waiting for us, then there would be no litter left to collect. My contributions to the pile of collected debris were not unique or worthy of mention, but they filled up my trash bag nonetheless.
Actually, I came to realize the little things comprised nearly everybody’s trash bags. We spent the day on our hands and knees, peeling our eyes and parting reeds. The more we looked, the more we found. That which I didn’t even notice when I started was soon all I could see.
I am not on the hero’s journey, I am on the volunteer’s. We all are. Our deeds may not be triumphant, finishing with a trophy the size of a safe at the end of the day. In fact, our deeds must not be finite at all. To be an aquatic steward, we must go beyond our designated days of service, beyond showing up, all the way to living our lives through more careful lenses. It won’t always be as easy as spotting a safe, but since when does giving back mean giving up just because we have to peel our eyes?