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Confession: I’m one of those wierdies who goes grocery shopping once every week.

What can I say? I like my fruit and milk fresh. So sue me.

I usually go on a set day (Monday or Wednesday) and I normally get the same list of things. The folks at Buehlers probably think I’m a little off. And that’s always what I’m thinking that they’re thinking as I’m unloading those same few items onto the conveyor every week.

One particular week, the particular high school guy bagging my particularly random food items remarked at the hip, enviro-friendly cloth grocery bags I had just so recently purchased. He asked if I got them for the environment. “Yeah,” I said, “just trying to do my part, ya know.” He gave me some props and I went on my merry way.

Well, as it turns out, I wasn’t done with this kid yet, as he was also the grocery-loading-guy outside as well (it was right before closing time). So as he was setting down a case of bottled water in my backseat, he asked if I recycled them too. “Absolutely,” I answered, “I drive by that disgusting landfill everyday and I can’t imagine not at least attempting to limit the amount of crap I personally contribute to it’s stench”. “Yeah, me too,” he replied, “it’s weird though, because my parents don’t even care. Their generation just doesn’t seem to get it.” Hmmm, I had never thought about that before. I began to drive away and then suddenly realized that I had just talked about environmental responsibility with a high schooler.

A high schooler.

Wow, so apparently this generation really is different. I’m still evaluating whether I am actually included in the same generation as that kid. But he was right, our parents really don’t seem to get it. And the unfortunate truth is, we are going to pay for their mistakes, just as they paid for their parent’s mistakes, and their parents before them. Right now we are dealing with the consequences of the decisions our parents’ and grandparents’ generations have made. Decisions that are ultimately harming this planet. And now we will be accountable to our children–and even to God, I believe–for how we will live while we we’ve been given this short span of time here on earth.

Alright, well that’s not even the main point of this post, lest you think I am careening into tree-hugging territory. Maybe another day. This whole business of our carbon footprint, though, got me thinking in another direction. See, when you make an actual footprint in the dirt, you are displacing the earth around you. The ground moves out of the way until it has successfully equalled your weight (or density, I suppose) and pushes back. It’s like buoyancy, if something floats it’s because the water has put enough force on the object it’s surrounding that it essentially allows that object to “carve out it’s space” within it. If something sinks, it’s because the water doesn’t have a significant enough reciprocating force to even out the object’s weight. Follow?

Since we humans are “carbon-based”, (18.5% carbon to be exact), I began to think about how each one of us has the ability to leave impressions in those around us (to complete my little analogy). Some are positive, some negative. Which made me realize, it’s not just an ability. It’s actually a responsibility.

And so, this is where I probably need to make another confession: lately I’ve felt like I’ve been a fairly significant non-force on those people around me. It started a few years ago, I suppose. I had this nice little string of setbacks that I felt like God could have handled a little better. So, layer by layer, I started to remove myself from responsibility. I was burnt out and needed a break, and I didn’t feel that worthy to be displacing any part of myself into other people anyways. I felt like I didn’t have any significant forces lifting me up, so how could I reciprocate that in someone else?

All the while, the years kept ticking off and that significant force still hadn’t made itself known. I kept praying that I would come back around like I always tended to do. Or that God would himself lift me from the depths my little stone of a life sunk to. I kept waiting. And kept sinking.

Then I remembered there’s this other property to buoyancy. See, water has a tendency of making heavy objects feel lighter. Even if a rock sinks, that rock has become lighter just by the simple fact that it’s immersed in water. So while I don’t feel all fancy free and floating above life’s troubles all the time, I do feel lighter. Each new day, I discover a little more of God’s grace and as a result I discover a little bit more that I can impress onto another person.

It was then I realized that I was going to have to be the one to take that first step. I had to make that initial push before there could be reciprocation. The dirt can only push up against the sole of the shoe after the shoe has pushed into it. After that, it’s just nature. It’s just physics and dirt. It works itself out.

To live unto yourself is to not really live at all. So then, what are we doing if we’re not displacing ourselves on those who surround us everyday? If we’re not impressing our very souls on a new and coming generation, then we’re not really changing anything. But if we do our part, the rest will take care of itself. We don’t have to change the whole world, after all. We just have to change our own.

Sometimes I wonder if recycling my plastic bottles and using my new little grocery bags really makes that much of a difference in such a big, big world. But then I think about that high school kid.

And then I think about footprints.

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Ryan Straits



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