in a word – REFUSE

March 2, 2011

This photo was taken in the carpark of my workplace. I have been working there once a week and driving past this garbage dump for about four weeks. I’m wondering what goes on with the garbage disposal here? Is this what our world will look like in another 100 years?

Are we all going to be living in piles similar to this one? Do we all have to buy bigger houses just to contain all this s**t? Probably.

There is a wonderful children’s book called “The Tip at the End of the Street” about some kids who find things in the dump. They eventually find an old man thrown away at the tip and take him home. They build him a house in the backyard, made of an abandoned railway carriage and furnish it with other thrown away items. The old man eventually dies but only after he has been found and looked after and shared all his songs and stories with the children. It’s a lovely story.

My office building used to be an old fashioned mental institution or asylum. It has a lot of history, from the days when people with mental illnesses were locked away from the world. These places have a bad reputation and many horrific things happened. They were closed largely due to advances in psychiatric treatments, but also due to social and political movements. At their best and most well-intentioned they were places of refuge, where people who were considered “refuse” by the rest of society could have a place.

As I walked to lunch I saw some of the patients from the newer psychiatric wards, who generally stay for short periods before returning home. The lucky ones have family and the rest stay in government housing. They look and smell different to others, and I found myself avoiding their company. I’m sure they are discarded by most of society. It’s a long time since I worked in one of those wards, but I used to be fascinated by the mentally ill. I wonder how they would perceive their life differently in an asylum or whether they would have a greater sense of community.

There will always be people who look bad, smell different and aren’t able to contribute much in a conventional sense. They are considered a burden and a problem to be looked after. I have found that each of them does contribute something to the world around us, often in unexpected ways to those of us who spend time with them. It may be a gift of laughter, creativity or seeing things from a different angle. Or it may be a hard earned gift such as learning patience from someone who is difficult to deal with. Such gifts are not always easy to see but the reward of some perseverance.

 

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