Paradise—“any state or condition of great satisfaction, happiness or delight“ (Webster’s new world college dictionary )
“This water is paradise”, he said, with a wide smile on his face, when I handed him two bottles of cold water. He was the one who rode on the back of the garbage truck, repeatedly jumping down when the vehicle stopped at each house, lifting and tossing the bags, cans and all sorts of trash and unwanted goods into the maw of the huge truck. The driver would also help with the pickups when there were huge mounds of trash in front of the homes; but the man riding on the back usually did the bulk of the pick ups by himself.
Even though the temperature on the Saturday morning after thanksgiving was in the mid-70s and there wasn’t much humidity, it was still hot enough for the man to work up a sweat as he labored. His face glistened with it and he looked thirsty.
I had forgotten to put my trash can at the curb that day because the pickup schedule changed due to the thanksgiving holiday. I heard the familiar screech of the brakes out front as the truck stopped near my house for the man to sling the cans and other detritus into the vehicle. My trash can needed to be picked up; it was full to the brim with the week’s garbage. I was out of town on the previous pickup day earlier in the week so I had a week’s worth of accumulated trash.
I hurried out to see if the truck was at the beginning of the route past my house or at the end and on the way to the next street. I was in luck. I made eye contact with the man as he hopped off the truck to lift a huge pile of trash at the house just past mine. “ Will you pick up my trash on your way back around?” I mouthed. He shook his head and smiled “yes”.
A two-man garbage truck rolls though my Florida neighborhood twice a week. I have developed a habit of giving the men collecting the garbage cold bottles of water when I am at home and have bottled water in the fridge, especially in the hot summer months when the temperature is regularly in the 90s and the humidity is oppressive at 90% or higher.
After I had hurriedly gathered my trash and rolled the can out to the curb, I could hear the truck as its screeching brakes stopped regularly from one house to the next. It was still at the far end of the street. I realized I had time to go inside and get some water for the men.
I could see the truck as it was approaching from its journey around my block. The stops now were longer because there were piles of trash in addition to the cans in front of the houses. I waited by the curb with the water. As the sun beat down on me while I stood there waiting I started to sweat and get overheated.
The truck was finally back at my house. I handed the man the bottled waters as he jumped off the back of the vehicle to pick up my can and two garbage bags piled beside it. He took the bottles with a smile and stored them in a pouch on the side of the truck. He said “this water is paradise” and jumped back on the smelly and dirty truck.
In that moment I realized that what I considered a small act of generosity had had a huge impact on him. His expression of appreciation touched me deeply. It reminded me of so many times in my life when others had done a small act of kindness for me which had made a huge positive difference. It was someone opening a door as I exited the grocery store carrying three full bags;someone letting me merge into traffic on a busy thoroughfare; someone giving me a ticket to see a play; someone making homemade soup and sharing it with me; someone listening with kindness as I expressed the pain of loss or the exultation of accomplishment; someone offering me a cool drink of water when I was thirsty.
I was filled with gratitude. I also felt the joy that comes in giving. The two of us had made a human connection in our brief exchange. He responded to my need with empathy and kindness. I responded to him with the same. It was as if he saw me with my eyes and I saw him with his. We saw the humanity in each other. My heart filled with gratitude for the gift that I received from him.
I realized that paradise can exist right here on earth in a single act of kindness, with a single connection between two people, in the most unlikely place, when each person sees the one in front of them as a fellow human being. What moments of paradise await you?