I recently returned from a road trip with my teens. On one of our many gas station restroom stops, I gave my youngest son a handful of empty wrappers to throw in the nearby trash can.

As my son neared the trash can, I observed a man with a long braid down his back, smelling strongly of cigarettes, and mumbling to himself. As I got closer, I could discern his words: “God damn litterbugs. I hate litterbugs. Just throw your trash away. Stop trashing the earth!”

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him stoop down to pick up an empty carton laying on the pavement. He walked it to the garbage can and crossed paths with my son.

As I approached, I heard him say to my son, “Young man, I’m proud of you for throwing your garbage away in the right place. I sure wish I had a girl for you! I know you might be a little young but I sure wish I knew a nice girl for you.”
My son blushed out of embarrassment. I smiled and offered a nervous laugh behind my mask and then quickly ushered my kids inside. I did not want to draw attention to ourselves.

As we waited in line to use the bathroom, the man made a purchase of beer at the checkout. I saw him approach us. I put my hand on my son’s back, moving him closer to me.

The man stood close (too close) to my son and began speaking to him again, “Son, I know you see me standing here behind you. I just want to tell you I’m proud of you. We need to take care of this beautiful planet. Here you go.” He pushed a one-dollar bill into my son’s hand.

My son was confused and didn’t want to take it. I nodded at him that it was ok to accept the man’s generous gesture. I thanked the man and told him that we loved the earth too. I thanked him for taking care of the planet and for his kind gesture. Then he walked away.

There are so many valid reasons to mistrust strangers, especially in these challenging times. And then something like this miracle happens. A total stranger, who could easily be judged to be unsafe, shows up to share his love and respect for the planet. And wants to compensate my son simply for throwing his garbage in the proper place.

I’m going to keep staying open to the miracles. I want to acknowledge and notice them all. And I want to share the love and care towards this great planet that we all have a responsibility to protect.

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