“That’s not your job,” I finally said to her.
“Whose job is it then?” she replied without breaking rhythm.
“I’ve seen someone out here before, from the gas station,” was my attempt at an answer. She just smiled and kept working. I had pulled my car into an empty spot about twenty minutes ago. How long had she been here?
“It’s not just their responsibility,” she said. Her response caused me to forget any attempt at a well crafted come back. “It’s mine too. And yours.”
“But they get paid to do it.”
My response was so weak I’m surprised it traveled from my mouth to her ears.
She laughed to herself.
“Is money the only motivation to take responsibility?”
Nobody said anything. A few cars drove by. I felt like roadkill the way people looked at us. It was clear she was not going to let me avoid the question so I repeated fragments of some rubbish I had heard before.
“No...yes...I mean, for some things it has to be.”
“Like what kind of things?”
In an attempt to add validity to my response, I answered without hesitation.
“What about custodians? There is no way people would refill toilet paper and clean up children’s vomit if they were not rewarded with money.”
“Hmm…” she said.
I thought I had got her. In the battle of explaining human motivation I reigned supreme. I did not even know why I was still there. My shirt was sweat stuck to my back and I had not eaten anything since breakfast.
“I knew a man who understood the importance of educating children, but he never received his own degree."
"Okay," I replied.
"So he made sure the school was clean and the children were safe. He only wanted to see the children succeed. Do you think he took that position because of how well it paid?”
I didn’t have any words, so I shook my embarrassed head.
“Of course not,” she continued with a certain conviction in her voice. “We all have different responsibilities, of course. But we all have some responsibilities that are the same.”
The debate was over. I could not disagree with her. There is no arguing motives. There is no falsifying emotions. And her actions were obvious.
After a few minutes of silent reflection I walked back to my car. Just before pulling away, I stopped to look at her one last time. She did not look up. Her aged hands repeated the same action over and over. She reached down, picked up a piece of trash, and put it inside a plastic bag.
Photo by Nick Jeffway on Unsplash