“Throw away everything from before May 2012.” These were the instructions from Dave, our team leader. Sunday afternoon I joined a group of 15 or so volunteers
from my local church in a clean up day at the temporary residence facility in a
neighboring community called Samaritan Inn. The Inn houses 100 people in
transition at a time. There are rooms for singles and apartments for families.
Our group wore matching red tshirts that said “Change the World Weekend.” We were part of a churchwide local mission outreach in our community.
Our task Sunday afternoon was to clear all the expired canned goods out of the
trailer behind the Samaritan Inn. Local stores and companies donate pallets of
various food items, so we were faced with shelf upon shelf of canned green
beans, bags of lentils and rice, canned corn, peaches, pears, and sphagetti
sauce. I took up my post at the back of the trailer alongside my son’s
girlfriend Karena. We cleared a shelf and labeled it “Out of Date.” And another
“Still Good.” Then we began our work. Together we made up an assembly line of
2, reading the dates stamped on the bottom of each can and, as quickly as
possible, placing them on the correct shelf. Other volunteers would come remove
the outdated cans on dollies and take them out of the trailer, so the cans
could be emptied and compressed for recycling.
I got so absorbed in our task that I almost forgot how hot it could get
inside a dark trailer on a late spring day in Texas at 2 in the afternoon. I
felt bad that so much potentially nutritious food was going to waste. But I
noticed that I felt more emotional pain getting rid of foods that I personally enjoy
than those I don’t care for. I was pretty upset watching a whole pallet of butter
flavored pancake syrup that expired in February 2010 roll away on a dollie. Not
so upset about the case of sphagettios that expired in January 2011. I thought
I had made an archaeological find when I discovered a can of beets from 1794,
but, when I squinted to see it more clearly, the 7 turned out to be a 9, still
pretty old. Karena and I got rid of fruit cocktail in heavy syrup from March,
2009, canned corn from April, 2008, and green beans from as recently as April,
2012. Each can had a date that indicated when it was canned and another, just below
it that indicated when it expired. Who knew that canned goods only last three
years? Probably everyone but me.
I have a lot of stuff in my life that needs to be thrown out from a lot
longer than 3 years ago. I need to throw out the habit of eating an entire box of Carr’s Ginger Lemon Crème cookies in one sitting when I’m tired and have a deadline to meet.
I’ve been doing that since I was in college, and we don’t need to go into how
long ago that was. (I only hope the company can survive without my patronage.)
Yesterday I heard myself retelling the tired story of something a
family member said that offended me last summer. That was, let’s count them, 10
months ago. Petty grievances are not canned goods. They should be thrown out immediately. Their contents should be emptied and their containers compressed and recycled into something positive. There are lots of other things I need to throw out, but I’m not in the mood to be anymore self revealing at the moment. Perhaps in a future blog.
There are plenty of expired cans in our social trailer. Many of them
were never meant for human consumption to begin with. Discrimination against
people on the basis of race, gender, age, physical disability, sexual
orientation, or ethnicity are societal habits that have expired and need to be
thrown out for good. Not just wheeled out for show, wheeled back in through the
back entry and reshelved. Negative political ads devoid of substance are out of
date and should be thrown out. We deserve better. That’s just for starters.
The Washington Post recently pulled together a “What’s in and what’s
out” list for 2012. It is quite extensive, but here a few highlights:
Aps are out. Naps are in. Hoarding is out. Cleaning is in. Organic
vodka is out. White whiskey is in. Civil War reenactors are out. Titanic
revivalists are in. Putin is out. Putin is in. “Words with Friends” is out. Scrabble with Neighbors is in.
My experience throwing out can after expired can makes me want to make
up a “What’s out, What’s in” list for my own life. It makes me want to
make my own inner pantry a local mission project. It makes me want to spend some time getting rid of expired thoughts and mental habits, which, as we all know, eventually find their way into our words and actions in the world. It reminds me that things change when groups of people get rid of the same expired stuff at the same time.
I am not allowed to buy things with a credit card whose expiration date
is past. Why should I allow myself to keep living day in and day out with
mental and spiritual habits I should have thrown out years ago?