The Need to Keep Pushing Onward for the Environment
We all love a day at the beach. The sun on your face with the sound of crashing waves, and the sand under your toes with an unsettling amount of garbage scattered like seashells along the shore. So maybe that last one is the worst part of going to the beach or any scenic spot where Mother Nature is supposed to feel untarnished by our often-uncivilized actions, but it’s sadly the reality we see all too often.
I recently took my two sons to a scheduled beach clean-up event bright and early on a Saturday morning. It was hazy, a little chilly, and both boys whined about how tired they were and pined for the sweet relief of screen time on the comfortable couch at home. I’ll admit that during the drive I considered how much easier it would be to lounge in front of the TV with my coffee, but I was determined that this would be a teachable moment for them and a way for us to give back to our community and planet.
When we arrived, my teenager had about as much gusto as you’d expect from someone his age. Grabbing a bag he asked what the bare minimum was to gather before he could take a break. Now I don’t mean to discredit my oldest son’s desire to help, as he is a good kid with a kind heart, but his motivation was hindered by the sheer scale of the work ahead, whereas my seven-year-old enthusiastically grabbed his bag with his only focus on his feet kicking through the sand toward the water. You could see the divergent feelings forming as the older child was thinking “the beach is supposed to be me having fun,” and the youngest couldn’t imagine a day at the beach not being fun! It wasn’t long before we landed upon a sandbar of seaweed with a staggering collection of plastic bottles, bags, and discarded clothing— enough trash to fill five bags in five minutes. We emptied them out in the collection bins and focused our energy on more sparse findings like tossed cigarette butts and random bottle caps. The sun became more intense, and our legs felt the effort needed to keep walking around in the sand. We continued our search, but the difference in age between my children also revealed their differing optimism and pessimism. My teenager felt like our efforts were useless as the trash seemed unending, but my youngest was so driven to collect everything he found and even became frustrated with his older brother for grabbing anything he felt was ‘his’ to take credit for.
I found myself contemplating the beach day clean-up experience on our drive home, and how much it perfectly parallels our own human experience with environmentalism. We often oscillate between inspiration and discouragement as we are faced with the challenges of cleaning up our planet, and our emotions can be complex. One moment we are picking up trash on a hiking trail and believing we are a part of the solution, only to turn a corner and feel overwhelmed at the sight of graffiti-covered rocks. Despite my teenager’s apathy that comes with age and experience, he soldiered forth and still put in the work required to get the job done. Maybe watching his little brother compete to collect the most trash was enough to keep him going, or sometimes whatever we can muster is enough as long as we keep doing what we can. We can only hope for youthful enthusiasm along the way!