Monday Musings… Do You Feel Like Trash?
Recently, I had the pleasure of going to see Toy Story 4. I have to say, it’s probably my favourite movie out of the quadrilogy. (Yes, I looked it up and that’s a real word 😊) If you haven’t seen it yet, don’t read any further. It’s a movie you want to experience firsthand.
When you think of your own early childhood and the toys that became your best friends, it’s not hard to relate to Bonnie, the young 5-year-old who inherited Andy’s toys when he went off to college. Toys serve a purpose way beyond practical posable play. This was so evident when we were introduced to a new character named Forky.
As young Bonnie struggles with her adjustment to kindergarten, she finds solace in her solitude when she suddenly sees some interesting items on her work table. These items were recovered from the classroom garbage bin through the valiant efforts of Woody, whose character now mimics Rooster Cogburn in True Grit coming to the aid of the distraught young girl. Bonnie takes the spork, pipe cleaner, broken popsicle stick, two odd-sized googly eyes, and some clay and creates her beloved Forky. Each of Forky’s components were useful at one point in time, but then deemed disposable, that is, until Bonnie assembles the various pieces and creates what’s soon to be her most precious friend.
But from the moment Forky springs to life in Bonnie’s hands, he struggles to see his value. In fact, he calls himself “Trash”. He believes in his plastic heart that he is useless, that ‘trash’ is his only identity and so he keeps trying to jump back into the garbage bin where he feels he belongs. Woody is persistent in his rescue efforts, and succeeds, but it’s Bonnie who ultimately teaches Forky the true power of connection and the value we have as individuals.
As I watched those scenes, I couldn’t help but think of the countless people on the planet who feel like trash, who feel like they don’t matter, that they’ll never measure up, and that the world would be a better place without them. Or those who’ve made a mess of their lives and fallen into the dumpster and don’t see any way out to the point where, even if someone tries to rescue them, or even if they go to rehab, or even if they try on their own to break free from the layers of debris that surrounds them, they can’t. They give up the fight and retreat to the life they know. Familiarity brings contentment, even when you know it’s harmful.
There are times in your life when you’ve probably felt like trash. I know I have. When I was in grade school, I was a very busy kid who couldn’t sit still or stay quiet, so I got into trouble a lot. I was a frequent flyer down the hall to the principal’s office, where they had the strap waiting for me. But it wasn’t that routine experience that made me feel worthless. No, it was something that happened in grade 2 that stuck with me for a very long time.
When you get labelled as ‘trash’, it sticks to you like gum on your shoe. You try to shake it off and scrape it off, you hope people won’t notice, but every time you walk it makes a sound. You can’t escape it. You could have the shiniest shoes on the surface but people only remember the gum. So, going into grade 2, I already had a label. I was “that kid”. That reputation preceded me as the grade one nun had likely informed the grade two Sister that she would have the unfortunate pleasure of my company.
One of the important skills all students in grade two needed to master was penmanship. I already knew I was set up for failure because I was a leftie and in those days that was completely unacceptable. It actually was believed to be a sign of the devil, so in a Catholic school this was a big problem! Now, I was doubly cursed! Well, one day the teacher decided to showcase the top students’ handwriting. To my surprise, I was called up to the front. I couldn’t believe my good fortune at the possibility of this potential praise. The teacher also called up Melissa, who everyone knew was her favourite student, and she asked both of us to show the class the handwriting assignments we had just been working on. She pointed to Melissa’s and commented how perfect her letters were and how she was going to go places because everyone would be so enamoured with her penmanship. Then she turned to mine. I was so excited to be on the same playing field with Melissa. And the teacher said: “Now, look at this garbage! This is NOT how you do your letters. No one will ever be able to understand what this mess says. Class, whose handwriting do we want ours to look like?” “MELISSA’S!!” they all shouted. I lowered my head, sauntered down the aisle, and slunk down into my seat in the back row of the class, feet dangling in despair.
I wish Woody had been with me that day to pick up the shattered pieces of my heart. And I wish Bonnie had been there to put me back together, to tell me I was not worthless, and that she would fight for me when I got scared, ran away, and felt like sinking to the bottom of the garbage can.
It takes one person to lift you out of the pit, and often another to put you back together and give you a fresh start, a new purpose, and courage that you can become more than what the doubters say you will ever be.
But it’s not a quick fix like the movies portray because your memory holds on to those negative instances like the gum mentioned earlier, only it’s more like crazy glue. All through elementary school I didn’t try. I lived up to the label(s) because that’s not only what I knew, it’s what I was told I was. In some respects, it followed me all the way to university. I never thought I could excel and be like the Melissa’s of the world.
When my first-year psychology course was over, I went to check my mark on the professor’s door. That’s what we had to do back in the B.C. (before computer) era. I looked for my mark around the middle of the pack. That also happened to be my eye level so that was handy. No grade. I instinctively looked down believing I was not good enough. No grade. I started to panic! Maybe I was going to the wrong class all semester?! The intensity of my anxiety grew as I searched upward for my grade. I finally came to the very top, which was very hard to see as I’m stretching my calf muscle to the max, and there was my mark. I got the top mark!! Beat that Melissa!
Now, things in life don’t just happen by chance. The professor for the course happened to come back to her office at the very same time I was standing there in shock, and she asked me how I did in her course. I told her that I did OK. See, just like Forky, I couldn’t believe I was anything but trash. She pushed her inquiry a little further and asked me my actual grade. When I told her I was the top student, right there she offered me a job to work with her in her psychology lab. She re-labelled me, gave me a new hope, and put me on a path for my future. I would not be where I am today without the divine intervention that made that meeting happen.
There may be times in life when you feel like trash, and for some of you, that thought has lingered or is still lingering. It takes trusting in the Creator, in a Bonnie, who sees your value and how vital you are to them and to the world, and who can give you a fresh start to discover a new path forward. And then, when you’ve thrown off the label of Trash and secured your new identity, look around because there are others who need to hear your story of redemption so they too can throw out their Trash label.
One of my favourite band's is NEEDTOBREATHE. I wish this song was around when I was a kid!