The warm saltwater swallowed my feet as I walked along the sand waiting for the sun to make its appearance. I hadn’t made it very far down the beach when I noticed an Old Man standing near the surf kicking a crumpled plastic water bottle out to sea.
As I approached, he shuffled away, his back hunched and rigid. He could barely get around. I bent down, picked up the plastic bottle and tossed it back onto the beach where it had a chance of being raked up by one of the hotel grounds staff. I walked on, not thinking much of it.
Twenty minutes later, on my return to the hotel, the waves washed over a distinct pile of litter, that included the same crumpled bottle, another yellowed one, two roses and a broken sandal.
I glanced around and saw the same Old Man standing about fifty yards away, near the sea wall, facing it as if he were taking a leak. But he wasn’t. Over his shoulder, he watched me approach the collection of last night’s reveling, yet he kept his back to me as if he wasn’t. He’d taken it upon himself to “clean up the beach.”
I thought of the floating trash islands swirling out at sea that I’d read about on the Internet. I gathered up the litter and made my way to a nearby trash can picking up a blue plastic bottle cap long the way. I dumped the refuse in the can. Why was it so difficult, I thought, for people to do the “right” thing.
The Old Man continued to watch me to see what I would do next. Then, I felt kind of bad for him. He had a different way of looking at the issue than I did. He was trying to keep the beach clean, and so was I. We each had our own way of dealing with things.
The next day, I saw him again, doing the same thing and it made me think a lot about right and wrong. I know that he probably thought his way was best – out of sight, out of mind. But so did I; I just thought mine was better. We all think we’re doing the right thing, or we probably wouldn’t be doing it, but when it comes to the environment, I wonder if we think enough.
What we give and receive from our World is a magical occurrence, one that still blows my mind. Even if we don’t know it, we all have a relationship with our place and how we care for that relationship defines our actions, for better, or for worse. I suppose he’ll keep doing things his way and so will I, but which one of us is right?
Who really knows? Maybe the items from the trash can end up out at sea anyway. I don’t have any idea how they handle the trash from the beaches and hotels in Cancun. Maybe the Old Man knew more than I did. Maybe neither one of us has the answer. I passed him on my walk as he stood near the shoreline. Not knowing what else to do, I smiled at him and said good morning. He didn’t respond, but I didn’t really expect him to. The smile was more for me and how I wanted to feel about him.