Love and Garbage, or A Christmas Lesson from my First Grader

Ah the joys of Christmas, especially through the eyes of a child. Or sometimes through their unwitting wisdom. Such was the case when my first grader recently came out of school sucking on a candy cane.

“Guess where I got this candy cane, Mama,” she said.

“I don’t know where did you get the candy cane?”

“Santa,” she responded.

“So Santa came to your school?” I asked.

“Yes, but he was a fake because the real Santa knows everybody’s name.  And I didn’t get my picture because I didn’t go to the end of the line and anyway it was 5 cents, and I didn’t have 5 cents. Why is everything with money?”

“Everything costs money, Honey. There’s only one thing in life that’s free.”

“What’s that?” she asked.


She countered my pearl of wisdom with her own. “And garbage.”

After I stopped laughing, I got to thinking. Though she meant what she said quite literally, there is some proverbial truth to her response. In any situation, we can offer one of two things: our love and compassion or the pieces of ourselves that are used, useless, and carelessly cast aside.

Traffic is an excellent place to demonstrate this concept. Say there is road construction and all lanes are merging into one. There is a line of cars trying to make this maneuver, and the person next to you slows enough to let you in. You move into the open space and give a little wave to the considerate person behind you.


Then, there is the person who speeds ahead of everyone else and cuts in at the last minute. You curse this person and if close enough issue a different hand gesture.


Of course, it’s much easier to leave our garbage behind. Surely someone else will clean it up, and if not, it will simply blend in with everyone else’s garbage. It’s no big deal, right?


Though I am not a scientifically minded person, Newton’s laws of motion have remained with me since I first encountered them in a long ago high school physics class. My favorite is his third, which states, “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Simply put, if I push against a wall, the wall pushes back at me with the same amount of force.

Apply this concept to the love/garbage dichotomy, and it follows that you get love for love and garbage for garbage. (You let me in, I give you a friendly wave. You cut me off, I give you a not-so-friendly finger.)

Not a perfect description of the way the world works, of course, because there are people who give garbage no matter how much love they receive. Alternately, there are people who love the habitual garbage-givers. (I would like to say that I have that much love, but my actions prove otherwise.)

In the giving and receiving of love and garbage, there is also the amount of effort to consider. Where there is little effort, there is little reward. Love requires much effort, so the reward is greater. And it usually takes longer to see that equal and opposite reaction, especially when you are a parent.

Each Christmas brings about the subject of giving and receiving. I, for one, will be the giver and receiver of many gifts. Yet, the most I can give is my love. The least, my garbage. So simple, but such a hard lesson to learn.

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2 Responses to Love and Garbage, or A Christmas Lesson from my First Grader

  1. Love this. A good reminder for me to remember the potentially equal and opposite reactions of my children as I try to get them to do their homework.

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