We don’t live within city limits but instead live out in the county. While we love living outside of town, this means that we don’t have garbage pickup unless we hire someone to do it for us. Thankfully we have a wonderful couple that runs their own pickup service who has been gathering our garbage for 17 years now.
On the occasion that we have bigger items or more trash than usual, we also have access to our local dump. We seem to be regulars there. It’s no surprise that with 11 kids something is always breaking or wearing down. The dump also has a place where we can recycle and donate clothes that no longer fit. It’s a tremendous blessing to our family.
Over the years, with as often as we seem to go, we have gotten to know our dump attendant.
The attendant is an old man. He is weathered and worn; wrinkled and browned by the constant sun. He always wears overalls and as the years have slipped by, he has begun walking with a much slower gait. He is stooped over now. He was old when we first started going to the dump 17 years ago; he seems almost ancient now.
He’s a grumpy, crotchety fella. He often barks at the patrons telling them not to do this or that. He watches over the dump like a hawk. He comes down from the porch when he sees someone pulling up to put bigger furniture or metal items in the special dumpsters. He uses his stick to point where he wants the items to go and gets irritated when you don’t quite understand what he wants you to do. When you leave he rearranges your items the way he wants them. You never can do it right.
I used to hate going to the dump- not just because it smells and it’s dirty, but because I really didn’t want to have to encounter him.
That all changed one day when I decided to really talk to the old fella and find out a little bit about him.
There was no one at the dump the afternoon I stopped to talk to him. My daughter and I unloaded the broken piece of furniture we had in our van. He was right there standing in his stained overalls, pointing with his stick to show me where he wanted me to throw our trash. I heaved the piece into the dumpster and then stopped for a moment and said, “You know, I’ve been coming here for a long time and I don’t think I have ever asked your name?”
He stared at me, almost confused. Slowly a smile spread across face. “Dave*,” he said, “My name is Dave.”
I introduced myself and told him it was really nice to meet him. I asked how long he had worked as the attendant at the dump. He scratched his head and looked to the sky. Rubbing his chin he said, “I guess about 25 years now. It keeps me busy. I’ve been retired for a long time and just needed something so that I wasn’t alone at home all the time.”
We stood there talking for about 15 minutes. In that time I found out that he was a retired Navy veteran (with the tattoos to prove it!) and after he retired from the service he worked for a very prominent company in our community as one of their janitors. He also retired from that company after working there for 30 years. He didn’t have a high school diploma but he was happy with how his life had turned out. He told me that he worked hard all his life and that he earnestly tried to do the best job possible no matter where he was employed or what he was doing in life.
I smiled at him and told him that I thought it was wonderful that he had lived such a fulfilling life. “We should all be so lucky.” I told him.
I left him that day with a smile on his face. The funny thing was I had a smile on my face too.
Since that day we have been to the dump many times. Each time we go I greet Dave with a smile and ask how his day is going. He always seems to be happy to see me.
Today was no different. We went to the dump to drop off a broken dresser and dollhouse. The dumpsters were almost filled to capacity. Dave shuffled off the porch and over to my van. I smiled at him and asked how his day was going. Turns out it wasn’t going too great. While he had requested they come and empty all his dumpsters, no one had been there to do so. Every bin was almost overflowing.
He showed me where I could put my goods and he seemed pleased when we hit the mark he had pointed out for us. I told him that I hoped he would have a better day and thanked him for his help. We left him smiling.
At home we were talking about going to the dump. I made mention of Dave and how his attitude towards me had changed- that I think he really does like me. Ben looked at me and said, “Mama, that’s because you ‘joyed him up’.”
I smiled at the innocence of the statement but in my heart I knew it was true; simply seeing him as a person who longs to connect with others and actually showing interest in him helped bring a little bit of joy back into his life.
Dave turned out to be different than what I had thought him to be. He wasn’t the grumpy, crotchety old man I had thought he was. No, he was a kind, sweet, and funny old fella that simply needed to be seen for who he truly was.
How often do we miss out on truly amazing people simply because we don’t stop to take the time to get to know them? We may look in their direction, make assumptions based on what we see, and then go about our lives without stopping to get to know them. What if those people simply need you to take notice of them and say hi?
What if all they really need is someone to “joy them up”?
We shouldn’t be afraid to share our joy with others. You simply can’t know how you will affect someone’s life by just being interested in them and by saying hello. I challenge you to put yourself out there and meet someone whom you may have had some preconceived judgments about. I bet you will be surprised at how your interaction will change how you view the person and perhaps more importantly, how the interaction will change you.
I still don’t like going to the dump, but I do look forward to seeing Dave. I think he looks forward to seeing me as well.
*Dave’s name has been changed to protect his privacy.