One more New Orleans story:
The great part about taking a trip is that you get to see things you’ve never seen before. The bad part about taking a trip is that very same thing. Tucked away here in the mountains, I know most every hill and holler and person. The things I look at every day are ones I’ve looked at for the last forty-one years. There’s an old expression about home being wherever you are. I don’t think that’s true. For me there’s only one place in the world worthy of that designation, and that’s a small town in Virginia.
That said, a city like New Orleans is about as 180 degrees from my town as any place could be. It’s big and busy and strangely ominous in a way you can feel but not describe. It’s a beautiful place full of wonderful people.
Also? They have the best trashcans in the world.
I’m thinking of one just outside of Louis Armstrong International Airport. Big, industrial trash can. Dented and cracked and chipped, with a thin layer of filth ringing a metal lid marked PUSH. I was in a hurry, juggling a bag and a hat and a phone and an empty coffee cup. I stopped there to rid myself of the latter, very nearly threw my phone away instead, then caught myself long enough to realize what I was doing. That small mental mistake was enough for me to slow down and pay attention to what I was doing. That’s when I saw the faded letters that had been stenciled onto the front:
DON’T NEED IT? LEAVE IT HERE
Looking back, I can only imagine how ridiculous I looked at that moment—one dunderheaded redneck gawping outside of a busy airport, looking like he couldn’t quite figure out how the fancy trash can worked. A part of me understood even then that was not one of my finer moments, at least on the outside.
On the inside, though? Well, that’s a completely different story.
Maybe it was that I was tired and in a strange place at 5:30 in the morning, but something about those six words got my mind reeling. I stood there, my hand stretched out to feed my cup to the can. Staring. Thinking, Wouldn’t it be great if there were places where we could leave all the stuff we don’t need?
Not just garbage like empty coffee cups and food containers (I could see poking out from the PUSH sign a piece of paper with a red heart drawn on it and an old lottery ticket). I’m talking about real garbage. The stuff we carry around with us constantly. The things we stuff our hearts and minds with rather than our pockets.
Shattered dreams. Broken hearts. Doubts. Anger. Despair. Jealousy.
DON’T NEED IT? LEAVE IT HERE
Wouldn’t it be great, doing that? Standing there and emptying yourself of all those things (I would imagine there would be no lid with PUSH on the front, just a wide opening so you could toss it all without fearing you’d miss), feeling yourself lightened as you walked away. Feeling yourself freed.
I wonder sometimes how much of what’s wrong with this world is because we’re all just so tired of carrying so much stuff around inside us, of having to cram in more and more garbage because we don’t have anywhere to leave it. That’s what I thought about, standing there at the trashcan outside of Louis Armstrong Airport on a rainy Saturday morning.
Still thinking about it when I boarded my flight home, too. Sitting there as the jet taxied from the gate, eyes closed to a gray sky. Offering a silent prayer for safe travels, feeling the worries and frustrations of the job and bills waiting back at home. That’s when I heard it—that small voice rising from a deep place in us all that feels like a bridge spanning one world and the next. Telling me Who’s in charge and Who’s watching over me—over us. Telling me to go on and give thanks, yes, and to pray for whatever I need, but also to hand over all of my garbage. He’d take it. He’d take it all and I wouldn’t have to carry any of it anymore.
Saying if I didn’t need it, I could leave it there.
Right at the foot of the cross.