Before I tell you about Mark, let me talk about trash. Or rather, let me talk about how much I hate to take out the trash.
In our house, that’s a blue chore (blue meaning a job for the guys, as opposed to, say, washing the clothes, which is a pink chore). Nothing irritates me more than hauling two bulging bags of garbage out to the cans. It’s done twice weekly and takes all of five minutes, but it’s an eternity to me. It stinks. Literally And it’s messy. Though far from a germaphobe and even though I often use gloves, I still wash my hands afterward. Usually twice. And then I’ll take a shower.
I know, I know. But deep down, we’re all weird in our own ways.
Mark, on the other hand, doesn’t mind trash. At least that’s what he says. I would imagine he would have to say that, given his job. He doesn’t have a choice. You see, Mark picks up our trash every week.
He’ll be the first to say his is not a career to which most aspire. Mark himself never expected to become a garbage man. But when your formal education stops just south of eleventh grade, your options are somewhat limited. It was either trash man or cashier down at the 7-11, and Mark says he’s never wanted to work with the public.
And besides, it isn’t all bad. Sure, some days are worse than others. He’ll say the weeks after Christmas are really bad, what with all those boxes and such. Halloween is no picnic, either.
Yet for the most part, the work is as enjoyable as it can be. He gets to ride around hanging from the back of a truck, which I admit I’ve always considered cool. And it’s outside work, which I admit is much better than being chained to a desk. Yes, it’s smelly. And many times it’s disgusting (I won’t tell you about what Mark has to go through during hunting season).
One would perhaps think that a man whose occupation revolves around the thing I hate to do most would be a man I’d pity. I will say I do not. Well, not anymore. I once pitied Mark as I pitied the downtrodden or the lame. He was the sort of person I’d look upon and wonder if God had somehow overlooked him. He was an example of the inherent unfairness of life.
But then I got to know him, and I discovered otherwise.
For instance, Mark is a family man. Has a wife and three kids. Mrs. Mark works at the Family Dollar and teaches Sunday school at a little church one town over. The kids, two boys and a baby girl, are the pride of his life. I’ve seen pictures that prove his pride is not the sinful sort. The clan lives in a single-wide trailer that backs up to the national forest. It’s a peaceful place, Mark says. The sort of place where a family can put some roots down.
Despite the perceived shamefulness of his job, Mark takes his work seriously. Someone has to clean up, he said to me, and it might as well be him. It’s a public service, and an important one. What kind of town would we have if no one picked up the trash?
So he works and his wife works, and together they spend what they have to and save what they can. Mark has big plans. So far his family has managed to squirrel away almost five thousand dollars to put toward a new double-wide, one that has a fireplace and even a Jacuzzi tub. He says his supervisor has noticed his hard work and attention to detail. A promotion may be in order in the coming years. He’s prayed for that and keeps his fingers crossed.
It’s difficult in this life to define happiness. Sometimes I think we attribute too much to it. We think we need money or education or fame to have it, but we don’t. I’d even be pressed to say such things often get in the way of happiness rather than provide it.
It’s not ironic then that the secret to happiness isn’t found in bound volumes of experts or esoteric writings of sages, but in the life of one single garbage man named Mark.
Because he’s happy, and I know why. Mark has the three things happiness requires.
Someone to love.
Something to do.
And something to hope for.