While I was driving to the mall, last week, one of my neighbors called my cell phone and asked if my son could possibly take her trash can to the curb for her, since she and her husband were out of town. My son, who was sitting in the car and heard the conversation, promptly agreed to help.
We got to the mall, shopped and talked, drank coffee, ate dinner and took my daughter to the play area; by the time we got home, we pulled directly into the garage and completely forgot about the neighbor’s garbage. The next morning, I watched the collectors drive in front of my house, stop at the curb and empty the receptacles – my husband had taken ours out before going to work -- and still no recollection of my neighbor’s trash can swam up to the surface. I walked outside to put a few pieces of mail into the mailbox and watched another neighbor wheel his receptacle back into the garage, and suddenly I remembered!
Praying in my heart that my son had remembered and had gone to the neighbor’s house after we got home without telling me, I glimpsed the curb, and to my expected disappointment, I knew he had forgotten as well. I felt terrible. I walked back to my house and looked up the number for solid waste collection, hoping that, if the truck was still in the vicinity, it could detour a bit and come back by. No such luck. The truck had already left my subdivision and I would have had to pay $50 for them to come back around. Attempting to be helpful, the person who took the call suggested I drive to the nearest landfill.
After hanging up the phone I weighed the landfill option – I drive a small sport car which could never house such a big receptacle, so maybe I could just take the bags out of it and fit them in the trunk somehow…
That idea quickly dissolved like fog in bright sunshine the moment I lifted the lid. Filled to the rim, the stench was overwhelming even in the open air; there was no way I could load those bags into my car. So, I was left with one final option…asking my husband to come to the rescue. I called him on his cell phone while he was picking up our son from Drivers Ed, and explained the situation. Though not happy about it, he drove back to work, borrowed his brother’s pick up truck and came back to load my neighbor’s garbage receptacle to empty it at the dumpster behind his business.
Within thirty minutes he was there, and he and my son took care of the dreaded chore. While I waited for them to come back home with the empty trash can, I thought of how unsettling it is to remain stuck with someone else’s garbage. Even if in this situation I had ‘stuck’ myself with it by forgetting something I had committed to do, there have been times when I have been an unwilling recipient of emotional garbage because I haven’t set proper boundaries.
Many mistakenly believe that by setting boundaries they will be less compassionate, while in most cases it is quite the opposite. One can be compassionate and able to sympathize with a family member better if their point of perspective is fresh and untainted. If, on the other hand, one is busy carrying one’s own personal garbage and that of others on top of it, this person will be completely overwhelmed and will be of little help to anyone.
My consulting editor, Dena, has come up with a genial way of being involved without being sucked into the drama of others, and she has brilliantly called it ‘being compassionately detached.’
Agreeing to be compassionately detached allows one to be open up to the energy of others and encourage them toward seeking a solution, while avoiding to remain stuck into someone else’s drama. Each person has a path to walk and lessons to learn, and sometimes wishing them well on their journeys is all one can do.