Three mornings a week you might find me early in the day trying to keep up with a tall, younger friend. Johnathan Munn and I have been walking regularly for the last three years. He is an associate dean and professor of economics at Francis Marion University. Twenty-five years my junior, six inches taller than me, he stretches me both physically and intellectually. As we walk the hour and cover a few miles in neighborhoods around our homes, we solve the problems of the world. Which, like the mercies of God, are new every morning.
I’ve noticed something.
As we walk and talk we are both looking around at different things. We see some of the same groups of people and exchange greetings. We notice the patterns of the bricks in the houses, some strange bark patterns on pine trees, hidden treehouses, new paint jobs on homes, and all the other things in our fair city. We walk mostly the same paths, so we get to know them well.
Johnathan sees something else, too. He sees the trash on the ground. Especially the broken glass. It reminds me of back in the late 1990s when Lou Holtz, upon arriving in South Carolina, noticed the huge amount of litter on our roads. He said that it indicated that we may not have as much pride in our state as we often profess. And he began a largely ineffective campaign to clean up South Carolina. I say largely ineffective because you cannot clean up a state that does not want to be clean. At least he tried. (I’m going to avoid all the obvious parallels to the coaching job here.)
When Johnathan sees the broken glass, without breaking much of his stride, he bends over, picks it up, and deposits it in the next trash can. Oddly, we’ve never talked about why he does that. It may be he has pride in our state and more so in his community. It may be that he is thinking of other people who will be walking this path. It could be that he is thinking of his three children, and not wanting them to grow up in a place where it is dangerous just to walk down the street. Whatever it is, he does it consistently.
Here’s what I have noticed. The paths we have walked have become nicer over the last three years. Little by little, wherever he has gone, things have improved.
A new year is upon us. We all will be walking our own paths, not just physically, but in every way and everything we do. And there is a lot of garbage out there. Not just broken glass, but broken relationships, torn feelings, divisive arguments, loud accusations, finger-pointing, and more than our share of hate, bigotry, prejudice, and misogyny. We can choose to ignore it and let it continue to build, mar, and destroy our community and God’s world. Or we can begin to make the paths we walk better for the people who will come after us.
What will your paths look like a year from now?
Michael Henderson, a retired United Methodist minister, enjoys serving as pastor of Brown’s Chapel and Vox Memorial United Methodist Churches.