By Nancy Remkus
“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” —Jane Goodall
April is one of the 12 months in which we celebrate this ever spinning planet, home to all of us, keeper of our memories, inspiration for our souls, the most exquisite, magical, beautiful place we know. In April new life surrounds us, and we turn our attention to this living breathing earth that our feet and our heads rest upon.
In caring for the earth, I have come to realize that we indeed need to care for the planet and all of her beings, including each other. One of the many lessons I learned from my mom, Nesta Lingwood Remkus, was living simply and leaving things a little better than you found them. She was truly a gift in our lives with an eternally kind and generous spirit.
Mom loved the earth and tried to keep it healthy everyday in her own way. I imagine she is very much like many of you. Everything in our house was recycled and cared for: there was a spot for each item…used cans and jars were washed within an inch of their lives and set on the counter for recycling. Tissue, cereal and snack boxes carefully folded and placed in a paper grocery bag. Plastic bags from loaves of bread were reused for sandwiches, and everything that could be composted found its way to our vegetable garden.
Mom could fix anything and was never quick to replace an appliance with a new one unless she couldn’t figure out its repair. She always carried a small pair of pliers and a screwdriver in her purse. There was no need for new, or more, or better: what she had was always good enough.
Mom not only cared about the earth through conservation and recycling, she also cared about it by leaving it a little cleaner and nicer for the next person. When we walked through trails in the woods, she would toss the sticks and rocks into the underbrush so a fellow hiker wouldn’t get hurt. When we were in a store, if she found a shirt that had fallen from a hanger or a product from a shelf, she made sure it was placed right back where it belonged, brushed off as good as new. When she washed her hands in a public restroom, she would take the paper towel that she had used to dry her hands and wipe the sink basin so it would be cleaner for the next in line.
When vacuuming, Mom would pick every pony bead my daughter dropped from a beading project and place them back in their proper container. Many of us would be tempted to vacuum them right up, but not mom; everything had a value, nothing was wasted. Paper clips were stored in a used ‘Altoids’ box, small nuts and washers were kept in baby food jars, and newspapers were always bundled. She unwrapped her birthday gifts with a sharp pair of scissors and saved the paper and bows so they could be reused. It wasn’t a matter of having the time: she had six kids to take care of and a motel to run; it was just her way of life, never taking the easy path just taking the right one. There was a huge heart that seemed to hold only love – love of her family, love of her neighbors and love for the earth. There was not room or time for anything else.
Mom took pleasure in all of the beauty the earth had to offer. She reveled in the uniqueness of each sunset over Long Beach; she made lists of all of the different animals she saw outside of her windows. She fed, welcomed and took care of every guest -human, animal, plant, or otherwise.
Quite coincidentally mom died on Earth Day two years ago. I find myself looking about for opportunities to take the time and care to live as she did. And as I walk or bike around the village I notice folks that live as mom did, leaving things a little better than they found them.
When walking across Long Beach I have often seen someone cleaning the beach. When taking the time to look more closely, I saw that it was life-long resident Ann Destefanis. Every day that she is able, for decades now, Ann is out cleaning Long Beach of garbage and debris and leaving it a whole lot better than she found it. “I’ve done more than take a walk for my health. I feel like I have given something back; the joy of having such a beautiful beach,” said Ann.
Early mornings I have seen Larry Burns untangling the American flags throughout the village so they can fly unfurled. Armed with a long stick and a lot of American pride, he has decided to leave things a little better than he found them. For years he has made sure the parking spaces in front of the Legion were saved so people arriving with their beach chairs have a safe place to sit for the Tuesday night band concerts. As a mason and a veteran, he constructed the patios there all out of love for the Legion and for the village he has called home.
And what about all of the Community Band members, coming together every Tuesday night of the summer, volunteering their time, to fill the air with beautiful music?
Many of the local tree companies gave of their time and equipment to come together to trim and take care of the beautiful trees in Oakland Cemetery. There was an army of trucks and trimmers working to leave the cemetery a little safer and healthier than when they found it.
These, I’m sure, are just a few examples of quiet goodness which graces our village each day: the folks that are working to leave things a little better than they found them. Through an act of kindness, an encouraging word, doing a little extra – that’s how we can leave people and places better than we found them — just as my mom did.