The Happiest Kingdom of Them All, And Why: The Local Recycling Centre

think I have found the happiest place in Montreux! It’s not the casino, but the communal déchetterie! (recycling centre). I went there last week to dispose of the ‘junk’ that could not be reasonably sold at our Fete, and noticed again just how happy everyone there is.

What evidence do I have for this? Well, first of all the place is quite small, and there is a lot of interaction between people going to the various bins to drop of their stuff, and the cars: coming in, making the circuit and going out. There is hardly any trouble. People come in slowly, look for a place and begin work. The people who are leaving, aware of all of the human traffic, leave slowly and politely, stopping to let walkers pass in front of them, smiling, waving them on. It’s amazing. There is no ‘déchetterie rage’ here.

So what is this? First, I think it is because people are in a happy mood (which I’ll come to later), but in the second instance, I am reminded of something that I read about people’s behaviour in supermarkets. In supermarkets, there is also a lot of traffic, which is often congested. But there is no ‘supermarket rage’ either. People often say ‘Hello.’ ‘Sorry, it was my fault.’ ‘Please, go in front of me’. The thing that I read said that unlike the road, where everyone is shielded from everyone else by a tin box, where there is hardly any one to hear you scream, or to chide you for bad road behaviour, in a supermarket we are all pretty much directly responsible for our actions. In this case we are more polite.

The same is true of the déchetterie. We are all jammed in there together, but at a human scale, without our cars and carrying our ‘junk’.

The staff there are also just so happy. They set the tone. The demands on the populace to sort out their rubbish are large. Different coloured glass, separate cardboard from paper, separate out ferrous from non ferrous metal and so it goes. But the staff are just so helpful and happy. It is a pleasure to want to do the right thing and to ask them. When I was there last, my friend made a somewhat cynical comment that ‘They ask us to separate all this, but then it is all mixed up again and burnt!’ But when he passed this on to the staff member, he took us over to the board, and showed us just how much the electrical goods are recycled, and how the different kinds of coloured glass can be used again for beer bottles etc., if they are pure enough in colour. These people set the tone of ‘happiness’ by their attitude of helpfulness.

I can imagine that if there were a staff person there who was ‘punisher’ then their whole attitude would be one of looking for people making mistakes, on the assumption that most people are going to try to cheat the system. But they do not. It makes going there a pleasure.

The other thing is that they have a place where people can ‘pick up’ other people’s junk: furniture, toys, kitchen items etc. There is nothing like coming away with something!

But here is the clincher for me. There is great happiness in ‘throwing stuff out!’ This is what I think sets the tone for the déchetterie. Junk which accumulates tends to become an ‘encumbrance.’ It piles up, and then finding stuff becomes more difficult. People say ‘maybe I’ll need it one day’ and so we don’t have a ‘clean out.’ But at the déchetterie, people have already decided to have a ‘clean out’. They are bringing their ‘waste’ and getting rid of it.

This is a metaphor. Even at the place, there is a bin called ‘encombrances’. It’s easy to do the translation. The French means something slightly different, but throwing things into this bin represents, in English getting rid of all that ‘encumbers’ me. This makes me happy. It shows that I am ‘flowing’ as a person. It shows that I am ‘processing’ my life so that, through fear that ‘I might need it one day’, I am not burdened by what I accumulate. This is what I think makes people happy at the déchetterie. A decision has been made: at last! Something that was ‘accumulating’ is now flowing.

Now this metaphor is at the heart of Christian life. Like the staff at the déchetterie,  God, through the Christian story creates an atmosphere of welcome and safety. Then we are able to die to what we were, and to let go of what genuinely stops us from moving on. This is the baptismal metaphor of Dying, Entombment and Rising. Christians are not afraid to enter into this process because Jesus has done it, and sets the pattern of life for those who are ‘in Christ’ , because they too have done it in their own baptisms.

But living the ‘baptismal life’, knowing that we know how ‘to flow’ makes us playful too. Erwin Friedman in his book ‘Failure of Nerve’ makes the point that overly anxious people do not have a sense of ‘playfulness’ about them. It is the fear of making mistakes, or of losing something ‘because I might need it one day’ or of ‘throwing the baby out with the bath water’ that stops fearful people from trying anything. So there is no pleasure of ‘trying out’ things within a safe environment: there is no ‘play’. But for Christians who know about the ‘baptismal life’ then playing, having fun becomes a normal part of life.

So there is my ‘take’ on why the happiest place in the Commune is not the Casino, where people ‘put in’ in the hope of ‘winning at someone else’s expense’ is the rule, but the local recycling centre. Where giving away and getting for free are the norm, and we have a chance to rid ourselves of what encumbers us. As the Easter hymn goes “Jesus lives! Thy terrors now can O death no more appal us! Jesus lives, by this we know, thou, O Grave canst not enthral us! Alleluia!” They should put this as a sign over the gate at the déchetterie as a sign that the baptismal life operates there


About frpaulsblog

Paul Dalzell is now a semi-retired priest living in Alexandra, Australia
This entry was posted in Religion and Society, Uncategorized, Weekly Reflections at St. John's Montreux and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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