MLK Day of Service

It’d be difficult for me to say I (alone) lead much of a life of public service. Instead I, appropriately or not, factor in AWebs uncompensated, unreimbursed time and money toward our collective household service. When added up, very conservatively speaking, the number of unreimbursed work hours, the donated and lost/forgone PTO time and the out-of-pocket unreimbursed expenses over the past decade or so the numbers are staggering. Multiple thousands of hours and likely approaching thousands of actual dollars spent. I value the already scarce decent quality hours together we can scrape together so I’m not searching through the charity help-wanted ads seeking even more of our time. As a civil servant she has coughed up far too much. To hear her say it, it’s simply part of the mission she gladly contributes. We diverge greatly; and sometimes vocally. To be sure, I do speak for myself as AWeb has already found a couple local recipients for some of her already-rare available time. Which makes yesterday such an outlier for me.

More than thirty-five years ago the country established MLK Day as a holiday and it was initially set aside as an observed holiday a couple years later and around a decade later the MLK Day of Service was born. Over the years I’ve attended parades, museums, monuments and memorials on said day of service but have not really been an active provider of said service. Yesterday on a brisk, windy yet bright day we headed out to pick up trash around a marina/park/trail section of the Mount Vernon Trail as part of a formal Day of Service program.

Our group met quickly and informally as the windy weather was so uncomfortable it wasn’t really possible to stand around and chat before getting to work. It was only a couple of hours—and I felt every one of the minutes. I delayed at the meet-spot chatting with the organizers as AWeb marched off toward the river with her gear. I headed first to the organizer’s auto to down a couple small cups of donated coffee to battle the cold and hope my lightly gloved hands would warm. I had covered them first in a pair of surgical gloves followed by a somewhat thin pair of cheap cotton gloves. I needed to maintain my ability to grip my crutches while attempting to keep something of the wind-whipped chill at bay. Once I knew AWeb was far enough away she couldn’t see me, thus preventing her from scolding me for running the risk of slipping on ice in the grass or getting bogged down into muddy puddles and falling, I was ready to get started.

My skills at hopping along on two crutches while clutching a trash bag in one hand and a trash grabber in another limited were untested. I had one of the organizers slice a small hole on opposite sides of the bag permitting my left hand and wrist to pass through and maintain a grip. I hoped (and hopped!) for the best. I was relegated to a perimeter route that avoided dipping too close to the river and included scouring the parking lots and around the picnic tables and trash cans. I trudged forward over the frozen yet snow-free ground for little bits of trash others would rather forgo in exchange for the big chunks they could easily grab, lift and bag. It felt as though I spent as much time maneuvering my wind whipped bag to accept the bits as I did actually picking up the trash. I lasted about fifty minutes before one hand was nearly frozen and my injured leg became cold and rather swollen. After a few minutes back in the car with a snack, another cup of coffee and my leg propped up I was ready to jump back out and finish the job.

As we handed over our bags, and some their grabbers, the organizers mentioned we were welcome to join them for a final cup of coffee back at the car followed by a group lunch at a local District Taco. We were game for some socializing with our fellow frozen volunteers so ended our service on a social note with new friends. Will this result in my turning the corner on my public service stance? Unlikely. Yet undeniably it felt great in this time of federal government paralysis to do something positive for a small section of our federal park land on a distinctly positive day for service.