When I lived in San Diego, my friend Zach and I would occasionally ride to work together. We’d bike around Mission Bay on our way to a coffee shop near the beach and talk about life along the way. They were some of my all-time favorite commutes.
On one such bike ride Zach stopped mid-conversation and turned around. I stopped a little farther up the path to see what the hold up was. He had seen a piece of trash in the sand and had gone back to pick it up. When he caught up with me again we continued our conversation. He didn’t say anything about it and I didn’t either. Zach was just the kind of guy who stops to pick up trash.
I’ve never told him but I still think about that day years later. It was on that day that I realized I wanted to be that kind of guy too.
Ever since, I’ve started picking up trash on my walks. I don’t always remember to do it but sometimes I do. It’s amounted to me picking up a small but substantial pile of garbage over the past couple years.
On another occasion I met Zach for coffee at a cafe. We stood in line and when it was his turn to order he purchased two coffees: one for him and another which he asked the barista to give to the next person who came in that day. It was then that I realized I wanted to be that kind of person too.
A week later I was working alone at a coffee shop. I bought an extra coffee and asked the barista to give it to the next person who came in. The next time I came to the coffee shop the same barista was working. She remembered me and told me she and the other baristas had been inspired to buy coffee for someone else after they had seen me do it. It turned out they wanted to be that kind of person too.
I don’t think picking up a piece of trash or buying someone a coffee here and there is going to change the world. But it might change someone’s world. To this day, when I’m taking a walk or standing in line at a coffee shop, I’m reminded of those moments with Zach and of the kind of person I want to be.
I wrote this while staying in a beautiful little village tucked away in a mountain valley in the charmingly old-fashioned Maramures region of Northwest Romania. While I was there I took a walk through the countryside. I was returning through the village when I noticed a piece of trash on the ground. I picked it up.
It felt good to be that kind of person.