Dumpster Diving at 4am

“The soul is dyed the color of its thoughts. Think only on those things that are in line with your principles and can bear the light of day. The content of your character is your choice. Day by day, what you do is who you become. Your integrity is your destiny – it is the light that guides your way.” ― Heraclitus

Last night as I laid down in my son’s bed between two large dogs and my son who was peacefully sleeping diagonally across the bed, I couldn’t help but feel a bit restless. Besides the obvious ridiculousness of our current sleeping conditions, it was the activeness of my mind that stopped me from easily finding sleep. I put on one of my favorite audio books and focused on my breathing. Some of my last conscious thoughts before I drifted off to sleep were complex and dark.

At 4 am I awoke with an acute mental sharpness. My thoughts fixated on the mass organization and clean-up that had occurred in our house over the ten days that our son was in isolation recovering from Covid. We had donated 30 plus bags of children’s clothing and other items to charity and purged many unused items from our household.

There was nothing significant about my thoughts, in fact I almost bored myself back to sleep when a thought jolted its way to the surface; I had thrown away several old shock collars that we had from an attempt to train our old Husky. These collars had rechargeable batteries in them. Rechargeable batteries are toxic and should be recycled properly; not thrown out in the trash.

My next realization that today was trash-day and that garbage man would be picking up our cans within a few hours. The toxic batteries were going to be sent to the landfill if I didn’t stop them. But I was tired. And I didn’t want to wake my son. Or the dogs who would then wake my daughter sleeping in the next room with her father. And what’s the likelihood that I would find these collars anyways? And so, what if they found their way into a landfill, the batteries are inside of thick plastic collars that will protect them from leaking into the ground. My brain tried desperately to rationalize my inaction.

Over the next twenty minutes or so I fell asleep and woke back up several times. I could not ignore my conscious any longer and decided that the only resolution for my active brain was for me to go retrieve the collars from the garbage can on our curb.

It took me a few more minutes to get out of bed. I had to remind myself that every time I could recall going against my conscious, it has ended poorly for me and/or others. The responsibility of making a mistake becomes amplified once the mistake is recognized and no action is taken. I quietly put on my slippers and said to myself in a whisper that I was “doing the right thing.”

The dogs didn’t wake, my children didn’t stir, there was effectively zero impact on my family as I slipped out the front door in my pajamas and slippers. The garbage bag I was looking for was the second one I pulled out of our garbage can on the curb. The bag wasn’t dirty and the only items in the bag were dog related so I brought inside the entire bag. After I washed my hands, I went back to bed and slept uninterrupted until 7am.

Integrity matters. I believe humans are defaulted to take the path of least resistance. It takes effort to do more than what is required. No one would have known about my batteries in the trash. I’m certain I have thrown rechargeable batteries away in the past with little thought and no immediate consequence. But it is different now. I am different. My body, nor mind, would let me ignore what actions I needed to take to act accordingly to my own ethics.

Today, I will listen to my body and mind when they are trying to tell me something. When I am aware that there is something within my power that needs correction, I will act and not sit by idle. Even if that action requires a little bit of dumpster diving at 4am.

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