Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Significance of Insignificant Items

I was checking out my Twitter feed today and ran across this quote:

The moment one gives close attention to anything, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself ~Henry Miller
I decided to put this to the test. What could I choose? I didn't want to go easy - like a tree or animal or car. The complexities of such things surely made the fact it was "magnificent" common knowledge. So I closed my eyes in my kitchen and spun around a bit. What would be the first thing I saw?

A plastic grocery bag. I know I know, I'm not supposed to have them. Let's move on. 

So how can a plastic grocery bag be a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself? I started really considering this bag in front of me. 

How did it get here? I mean, I know I brought it home from the store, but what sort of journey has this bag been on? In fact, I didn't even really know what it was made from. What is plastic? So I headed to the Internet. Looks like this bag started out as crude oil! Black Gold. Texas Tea. The oil is heated to release ethylene gas which goes through more transformations and manufacturing to become a plastic grocery bag. Huh. Wonder who was the first to come up with this? Was it by mistake? 

Once manufactured, this bag got packaged with millions of other bags and flew from probably China or India to a US distributor. At this point it is only 2 steps into its lifecycle and already more well-traveled than I am! From there it may have gone to another factory who imprinted a logo on it, then probably headed to a grocery store warehouse somewhere. Maybe it sat in a box for months, maybe it was put at the end of a register immediately and overheard all of the good cashier gossip. It finally got its 15 minutes of fame when I forgot my reusable bag during a quick stop. 

Now it is sitting in my house. I ponder what fate awaits it. Will it help me clean up after my dogs during our next walk?  Will it sit in my bathroom garbage can for weeks collecting discarded Q-Tips? Will it make it into the recycle bin before it is reused in some fashion? After that - what will happen to it? How many people, animals, places will touch this bag over the course of its lifetime? What IS its lifetime?

The point of this exercise was not to bore you with the history of my plastic bag. It was to prove this quote true. Every single thing in your life came there from somewhere and will be heading somewhere else once you're done with it. The amount of work that was taken to get it in front of you is overwhelming in and of itself. Next time you turn on the tv, pick up your yoga mat, put on your favorite tee-shirt, cut up a cucumber, etc - just take a moment to appreciate the truly magnificent and mysterious world encompassed by this "insignificant" item. Careful, it might just change you.

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