With Great Love…

25 Sep

california palm trees hollywood_www.wallpapernono.com_45


by Dustin Davis

About a year ago there was a terrible wind storm in Los Angeles.  The infamous Santa Ana winds were blowing down from the mountains and wreaking havoc on the palm trees that line my street.  Although the long and slender trees themselves sway gently in even the strongest winds, the actual palm fronds react quite differently.  All day long I could hear a tremendous crack as fronds were ripped from the tree followed by a great rustling of leaves as it would crash down on the street and sidewalk below.  (It was even dangerous to walk underneath the trees; palm fonds are heavy and have very sharp edges with a few spiky barbs as well!)

Once the winds died down the cleanup on my street began.  Not only had several fronds landed in my yard, but they were littering the sidewalks and yards of the businesses and apartment buildings along the street, too.  The unspoken rule about palm frond clean up was soon made clear; if one landed on your property, it was your responsibility to take care of it.  And so we did.  We all emerged with trash bins and brooms and slowly but surely cleaned them all up.  A few days later there was no debris left.  Except for the lot next to me.  (Right next to my house is a parking lot used to by the U.S. Post Office for parking mail trucks.)  Some of my neighbors had simply piled up the extra palm fronds around the bases of the tress in front of the parking lot.  It seemed reasonable enough and in accordance with the universally acknowledged rule about picking up the fronds.  But then they sat there and sat there and sat there.  No one removed them.  They remained, in place, shoved up against the trees from which they had fallen.

Maybe about six months later this really began to bother me.  I had started a very regular running routine, and I would pass by these piles almost everyday.  If I didn’t run past them, I walked past them or I drove past them.  As the months wore on – and it was made clear that the post office had no intention of doing anything about them – the piles of fronds began to catch trash that blew by on the street.  Pretty soon they weren’t just piles of palm fronds but piles of palm fronds full of newspapers, empty cups, crushed cans, broken glass, crumpled fast food sacks and a whole host of other items that you wouldn’t believe people throw out.  (Welcome to life in the big city!)  I decided enough was enough.  If the post office wasn’t going to remove their fallen fronds than I would.

I began very slowly, taking only one or two fronds at a time whenever I would walk past them during my cool down after a run.  I would throw them over my fence and then drag them to the dumpster on the side of my house.  It was a small act, but, for someone who is a little OCD like me, it felt good and was even a bit exhilarating!  As I began to remove more and more fronds I became more excited about my little community improvement project.  I took pride in my slow but steady progress and how it made my street look nicer.  I wasn’t sure if anyone was noticing – almost 100% sure the post office didn’t notice or even care – but I was undeterred.  Every new inch of sidewalk I exposed, the better I felt.  I even imagined the sidewalk itself breathing a sigh of relief.

Over the weeks that I had been doing this I received some very curious looks – “Why is that guy throwing palm fronds into someone else’s yard?” I could almost hear them thinking, not knowing it was actually my own yard – but no one had ever said anything to me until one day when a postal worker leaving the parking lot saw me.  “Oh, are you the one who’s been getting rid of those things?” she asked.  Somewhat startled I confirmed it was me.  “Good thing,” she said, “because someone needs to do it.”  So people had been noticing!  That others were taking note made my simple work feel more important.

Just last week as I was walking around the block on my cool down I was stopped by a woman who lives in the apartment building on the other side of the parking lot.  She is an older woman who can often be found meticulously sweeping her stairs early in the morning and watering her potted plants in the evening.  We have often waved at each other and exchanged greetings, but on this day she asked me what my name was.  “Dustin”, I told her.  “And you live in that house over there?” she asked.  I nodded yes.  She went on to explain how she has been watching me remove the palm fronds and trash over the last few months and how much she appreciates it.  She can’t believe no one else has done anything about it before.  I thanked her and began to walk away with a smile on my face and in my heart.  “Thelma,” she called after me.  “My name is Thelma.”  “It’s great to finally meet you, Thelma,” I said.

Mother Teresa said, “Not all of us can do great things.  But we can do small things with great love.”  Our actions have infinite and untold consequences.  A dirty pile of palm fronds started as an annoyance, but over time as the pile has shrunk it has simultaneously grown into something much more.  It’s an opportunity for me to make more beautiful my tiny part of the world, an opportunity to get out in and contribute to my community, an opportunity to witness.  If nothing else, after six months of dragging palm fronds to my dumpster, I have finally gotten to know my neighbor, Thelma.  And for that I am grateful.


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