Growing up, we had two brown trash bins.
On Tuesday evenings, my father dragged them full to the edge of the driveway. And on Wednesday evenings, my father dragged them empty back to the side of the house.
Until one Wednesday evening, the empty trash bins weren’t at the edge of the driveway. They weren’t discarded in someone else’s driveway. Or lying dismembered in the street.
Someone had brought our two brown trash bins back to the side of the house.
We had no idea who did it. But it happened again and again. This little sign that someone took an ordinary moment in the day and spent it caring for us.
Then one Wednesday afternoon, my mother looked out the window. And there carrying the two brown trash bins down the driveway was our neighbor, Chris.
Chris rode an old bicycle and lived in a small green house. We didn’t know much else about him. And he didn’t know much at all about us.
But Chris knew enough. He knew enough to know the care he gave to an ordinary moment mattered.
It’s easy to be careless with ordinary moments. I’ve got too much going on, we can tell ourselves. Nobody will notice. Plus, it doesn’t really matter.
Which isn’t true.
The Pale King is an unfinished novel. But author David Foster Wallace included this finished thought:
“True heroism is minutes, hours, weeks, year upon year of the quiet, precise, judicious exercise of probity and care – with no one there to see or cheer. This is the world.”
It’s heroic to care for an ordinary moment. Not because it’s the right thing to do. Not because of thanks or applause.
But because we become who we are in minutes, hours, weeks, year upon year of ordinary moments.
In each ordinary moment, our unfinished, heroic selves have a chance to care.
And if we take it, if we move the trash bins, we have made that moment in this world matter.